July 28, 2006

An Open Letter to the Higher Education Community

Excerpted from Scott Jaschik's article "Rallying Behind Open Access" in the July 28 edition of Inside Higher Ed:

If universities pay the salaries of researchers and provide them with labs, and the federal government provides those researchers with grants for their studies, why should those same universities feel they can’t afford to have access to research findings?

That’s part of the argument behind a push by some in Congress to make such findings widely available at no charge. The Federal Public Research Access Act would require federal agencies to publish their findings, online and free, within six months of their publication elsewhere. Proponents of the legislation, including many librarians and professors frustrated by skyrocketing journal prices, see such “open access? as entirely fair. But publishers — including many scholarly associations — have attacked the bill, warning that it could endanger research and kill off many journals.

In an attempt to refocus the debate, the provosts of 25 top universities are jointly releasing an open letter that strongly backs the bill and encourages higher education to prepare for a new way of disseminating research findings. “Widespread public dissemination levels the economic playing field for researchers outside of well-funded universities and research centers and creates more opportunities for innovation. Ease of access and discovery also encourages use by scholars outside traditional disciplinary communities, thus encouraging imaginative and productive scholarly convergence,? the provosts write.


The letter originated with the provosts of the Committee on Institutional Cooperation, which includes the universities of the Big Ten Conference plus the University of Chicago. Others joining the effort include the provosts of such institutions as Dartmouth College, Harvard University, Texas A&M University, the University of California, the University of Rochester, Vanderbilt University, and Washington University in St. Louis.


It’s not at all clear that the legislation will go anywhere this year, with Congress already headed into pre-election season and debates over scholarly publishing not exactly competing with Iraq or the economy for voters’ attention. But the proposal is almost sure to return next year ­ and the provosts’ action marks a shift of sorts for academic leaders.

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