Universities commit to open-access journal movement

College students could have greater access to scholarly journals if open-source efforts gain momentum.
College students could have greater access to the academic research in scholarly journals if open-access efforts gain momentum.

A dozen major universities have signed a pact to make academic research available free of charge online and forgo the pricey subscriptions to scholarly journals that can cost campuses tens of thousands of dollars annually, creating barriers for professors’ research to be widely read.

Duke University on Oct. 3 became the latest American campus to sign the Compact for Open Access Publishing Equity (COPE), an effort first introduced by Stuart Shieber, a computer science professor at Harvard University and director of Harvard’s Office for Scholarly Communication.

Nine U.S. universities have signed the pledge to “recognize the crucial value of the services provided by scholarly publishers” and underwrite “reasonable publication charges” that could make it feasible for faculty members to submit research articles to the open-access program.

The American schools that have signed COPE are Harvard, Duke, Cornell, Columbia, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), University of California Berkeley, Dartmouth College, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, and the University of Michigan.

For scholarly journals that require subscriptions, the cost of publishing is covered by subscriptions. For an open-access model, however, universities and colleges will have to cover those costs.

Duke, like other universities that have signed the compact, established a fund that will cover the costs of publishing academic research, according to the university library’s web site. Duke will dole out up to $3,000 a year to cover scholars’ article processing fees, and unused funds cannot roll over to the next year.

Other campuses, such as MIT, limit reimbursements to $1,000 per article, regardless of the number of researchers credited with the work, according to an MIT announcement.

Peter Lange, Duke’s provost, said that by joining elite schools that have signed the pledge, Duke hopes to “support the university’s commitment to promoting openness as an important value in scholarship” and help create a sustainable model that isn’t accessible only to individuals and campuses willing to shell out thousands every year for subscriptions to scholarly journals.

“Increased open access means more opportunities for the research of our faculty and researchers to reach a wide audience and have a meaningful impact on the world,” Lange said in a statement.

Duke’s fund for supporting open-access research materials won’t be open to “hybrid” publishers that don’t charge readers only when publication fees have been paid for, but regularly use the traditional subscription model otherwise.

The University of Calgary became the latest school to sign the COPE pledge Oct. 18. The university’s commitment is one of a series of efforts to make scholarly journals available to the public free of charge.

Calgary launched its Open Access Authors Fund in 2008, a program that has published 135 research articles from universities around the world, according to COPE. Calgary also caught open-access advocates’ attention when it announced the opening of DSpace, an online repository of scholarly journal works published at the university.

In recent years, even the richest American universities have cut back on journal subscriptions that can cost as much as $20,000 annually, open-access experts said. And as well-known schools throw financial backing behind open-access programs like COPE, these efforts have met with vocal opposition from entrenched interests.

Publishing companies and organizations, including the Association of American Publishers (AAP), have opposed many open-access policies and mandates.

In a 2009 letter to the Obama administration’s transition team, the AAP opposed the National Institutes of Health’s Public Access Policy, which would make NIH-funded research available to the public free of charge in a digital archive.

AAP officials argued that NIH’s open-access model “effectively allows the NIH to unfairly compete directly with private-sector journal publishers in the distribution of peer-reviewed scientific journal articles that are authored by NIH-funded researchers.”

The letter continued: “The NIH mandate thus severely diminishes both the market and copyright protection for these copyrighted works, to which not-for-profit and commercial publishers have made significant value-added contributions, and makes the NIH a free, alternative source of access to these materials in competition with the journal publishers’ subscription or other distribution models.”

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