• December 21, 2014

Open Access Gains Major Support in U. of California's Systemwide Move

After years of discussion, the University of California's Academic Senate has adopted an open-access policy that will make research articles freely available to the public through eScholarship, California's open digital repository.

The new policy, to be phased in over the next few months, applies to all 10 of the system's campuses and more than 8,000 tenured and tenure-track faculty members. It will affect as many as 40,000 research papers a year, the university said in a statement announcing the news. Faculty members can opt out or ask that their work be embargoed for a period of time, as many journal publishers require.

In a departure from many other institutions' open-access policies, researchers will also be able to make their work available under commercial as well as noncommercial Creative Commons licenses.

More than 175 universities have preceded California in endorsing open access, but the huge research footprint of the California system gives its action extra significance. University of California researchers get an estimated 8 percent of all U.S. research money, according to the system's announcement, and produce 2 percent to 3 percent of peer-reviewed scholarly articles published worldwide every year.

"There are a lot of other places that have an open-access policy, but when you pick up the University of California in one fell swoop, I think that's pretty significant and sends a strong message about how scholarly publishing is heading," said Robert L. Powell, chairman of the Academic Senate. He is also a professor of chemical engineering and materials science and of food science and technology at the University of California at Davis.

The California conversation about open access got going in the mid-2000s, Mr. Powell said, though an open-access policy proposed in 2006 stalled. But the discussion took off again in the last couple of years. In May 2012, the University of California at San Francisco, which is strong in the biomedical sciences, adopted the system's first open-access policy. That example gave the systemwide effort an example of how such a policy would work.

The University of California's faculty members and librarians have also been paying attention to open-access developments at the national level, including the National Institutes of Health's public-access policy and the recent White House directive ordering federal agencies to make research more freely available.

Some individual campuses, in addition to San Francisco, had also been considering policies, Mr. Powell said. "There was a lot of activity," he said, "and we really thought it made sense to have a policy that covered the entire system."

'A Lot of Group Work'

Getting 10 campuses to agree on a workable open-access policy required much cross-campus, cross-disciplinary wrangling, according to those involved in the discussions. Mr. Powell credited Christopher M. Kelty, chairman of the university system's Committee on Library and Scholarly Communication and an associate professor of information studies and anthropology at the University of California at Los Angeles, with helping negotiate among campuses and viewpoints.

Mr. Kelty said it took "a lot of group work" to hammer out the specifics and get the policy adopted. Members of his committee spent the last two years "canvassing people and trying to figure out how to make it the best policy possible and what the concerns were," he said.

Biomedical researchers' concerns tend to be very different from those of, say, art historians, who are much more likely to be worried about how an open-access mandate might affect images or other already-licensed content used in their work. Letting faculty members choose among Creative Commons licenses is one way to deal with those disciplinary differences, Mr. Kelty said. "I think that's a real triumph for reserving rights for faculty."

Campus librarians and officials at the central California Digital Library, who deal with publishers as well as researchers, also had a hand in shaping the policy, according to Mr. Kelty. One section of the announcement reads like a shot across the bow of the scholarly-publishing industry. The new mandate "signals to scholarly publishers that open access, in terms defined by faculty and not by publishers, must be part of any future scholarly-publishing system," the statement says.

"We really do need to work with publishers," Mr. Kelty said. "But we're not going to let them determine what open access looks like." Scholars and scholarly publishers don't always have the same priorities, he said.

'A Massive Education Effort'

Under the new policy the deposit requirement will begin on November 1 on two campuses and will spread to the others over the next year. "UCLA and UC-Irvine have agreed to be the guinea pigs," Mr. Kelty said. The gradual rollout will allow campuses and librarians who have to handle the policy's mechanics to work out glitches, "reserving our capacity to monitor it for a year before really throwing everything at it," he said.

Faculty members also need a chance to figure out what the new policy means for them. "As you can imagine, it's a massive education effort," Mr. Kelty said. Even though open access has taken on a much higher profile recently, he said, "there's a very large number of people who've never thought about it before."

Another important next step, he said, is for the university's administration to adopt the policy as well, to expand it beyond tenure-track faculty members to adjuncts, postdocs, and graduate students.

The system's endorsement of open access, and how the rollout proceeds, is likely to have an effect far beyond its 10 campuses.

Richard A. Schneider, a professor in the department of orthopedic surgery at the San Francisco campus, is the chairman of its Committee on Library and Scholarly Communication. He described the new policy as a major step forward for open access. "This is spreading like wildfire," he said. "It's going to basically reshape the landscape forever, and for the better."

'A Big Bad'

The policy will not satisfy all open-access advocates, in part because it does allow researchers to opt out.

"I have mixed feelings," said Michael B. Eisen, an associate professor of molecular and cell biology at the University of California at Berkeley. "It's good because the faculty of a huge university system are expressing their support for public access, and it will lead to a large number of works' being made freely available that might not otherwise be," he said by e-mail. "The bad—and it's a big bad—is the waiver."

If journal publishers insist that their authors request waivers, "it will render the policy irrelevant." He added, "I understand that the policy probably would not have passed without the waiver, but I think that shows that there really isn't such a strong backing for OA among UC faculty, as is being suggested."

But Peter Suber, a leading proponent of open access and director of the Harvard Open Access Project, said he was "delighted and grateful" to hear about the University of California's decision.

"The policy will provide OA to a very large body of significant research," he said via e-mail. "It will increase the momentum for other universities to adopt their own OA policies. And it will prove that even the largest and most complex universities can still adopt OA policies by faculty vote."

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