Blog Post

Open Access or Close It? Two Views

Yesterday, in Publisher's Weekly, there was a long and excellent discussion of the lawsuit filed by four scholarly publishers against the allegedly unregulated use of e-reserves at Georgia State.  The publishers argued that they were being deprived of income and the long article presents many sides on this story.  The lead from that story is below and, for the full story, here's the url:


Now, I am the co-chair of the Duke Digital Task Force, the taskforce that crafted, studied, proposed, and had unanimously accepted by Academic Council Duke's Open Access Policy, a policy which allows Duke authors to have the final draft (prior to copyediting) of our articles in subscription-only journals to be in a Duke Library repository where anyone can have access to it. ( Here's that link for more information: )  Given this championing of open access (in this highly specified and limited form; you have to go to the actual publication for the final version, publishers and authors all have the right not to participate, etc), you would think that I might be siding with Georgia Tech in this lawsuit.   Well, think again.  And then yet again.


On the one hand, I have said in print, in an article called "Research is Teaching," that I find it appalling that professors of English would ever use a course pack, whether we pay the publisher or not.  My argument in this case is not about the rights of publishers; it is about the self-respect of a discipline.  According to the survey published by the MLA, 88.8% of departments in Carnegie Research/Doctorate Institutions report that the publication of a scholarly monograph is either "very important" or "important" for tenure.  88.8%!  It is hard to think of any issue in academe with such consensus.   Yet English as a discipline has one of the lowest rates of faculty requiring their students to read and/or buy monographs.   My argument is that 88.8% of our Research I English Departments use this one criterion for judging excellence and then we do not even practice what we preach.  Shouldn't we be teaching the genre to our undergraduates (because we believe it is intrinsically worthy enough to determine someone's career in the academy) as an estimable form?  And shouldn't we be requiring full monographs to our graduate students so they can learn this genre in the way one learns all things that one is supposed to aspire to and imitate---by studying it?    It makes no sense.  If we don't really believe the monograph is important, get rid of it!   In the meantime, abolish the course pack altogether,  require at least one scholarly monograph in every English class, and then we show respect to the genre we say that we live by and we give back something to the publishers who, right now, are expected to publish our work but who experience abysmal sales of it.   


The short term result is they won't publish our work anymore and that will kill junior members of the profession, to have the standard of the monograph without the venues for publishing it.  What could be more self-defeating.   


If you want to read this article, and you are an MLA member, you go here:  ADE Bulletin 149 (2010), pp. 5360 (8).  And MLA has given me permission to reprint it and I've done so at this link on the site:


Now here is the irony:   this morning, in the wake of the Publisher's Weekly article, I really wanted to be able to give all of my HASTAC readers a url so they could go right to my article.  It's not a counterargument; it's more like an argument that sidles up to and glances against the Georgia State lawsuit, posing the issues in a different way.  Had the Duke Open Access Policy been in effect now, I could send you to the repository.  Now, I cannot.  So if you are not an MLA member, you either need to become one to read my argument or you have to take my word for it in the summary above.  


My larger point?  We are in a confusing and damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don't moment for publishing.  Scholarly publishing loses money.  Scholars who do not publish (at present) lose careers.  How do we balance these complex and intertwined issues in a sane way?  That is our question.



A Failure to Communicate 
In a lawsuit against Georgia State University over e-reserves, scholarly publishing faces a defining moment 

While the high-profile Google settlement has captured the attention of the publishing industry at large, a contentious copyright infringement lawsuit filed in Atlanta in 2008 by academic publishers against four individuals at Georgia State University has quietly progressed. And while a New York court now considers whether to approve the sweeping Google deal, a court in Atlanta could yet deliver something that publishers expressly chose to avoid in their settlement with Google: a fair use ruling.

The case, known as Cambridge University Press, et al. v. Patton et al., involves a popular practice known as e-reserves, or electronic reserves, on college campuses and the murky contours of copyright and fair use in the digital age. But perhaps the most notable aspect of the suit is that publishers are in essence suing their very partners in the scholarly publishing enterprise (including a university librarian), something critics say represents something of a waterloo for publishing. 




Cathy, I have tried twice to post this to your comments, and the browser just hangs up.


Hi Nils. For some reason our spam filter had flagged your comment. (And unfortunately re-posting the same content tends to aggravate this.)  I've approved it and you can see it published above now.  So sorry for the delay.


Abominable Drupal.   Thanks for letting us know.   We'll work on it.  yet again.  So very sorry, Nils.   We're rebuilding the site after only a year because it is such a disaster . . . not the first person with this experience with Drupal.  Sigh.



I don't see the long version which I attempted to post twice. I am willing to try re-posting it again. The text is linked from the word "this" in 7:08PM  post above.

Perhaps the reason it got flagged as spam is that I wrote with multiple links.

My reason for posting here was just to have my thoughts closer to the original, rather than a link away. On the other hand, these problems point to the value of posting in my blog where I retain some semblance of control ;-)


That part was human error. I was hastily going through the moderation queue and didn't realize that your entries weren't just repeated attempts at posting the same thing (which many folks often do).  I'm so glad you saved the content and would very much appreciate you reposting it just one more time. ;-)

Thanks for your patience and your engagement, Nils!


Cathy Davidson raised a series of issues in her reaction to a lawsuit known as Cambridge University Press, et al. v. Patton et al.

"My larger point?  We are in a confusing and damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don't moment for publishing.  Scholarly publishing loses money.  Scholars who do not publish (at present) lose careers.  How do we balance these complex and intertwined issues in a sane way?  That is our question."

Jim Groom has some thoughts on one aspect of this question -- the issue of credit, or reputation, generated by journal publication:

"And, often times, but not always, that class [of author] is accompanied by three letters after their name and a long list of publications in similar journals which often, but not always, gives them entrè into the journal in the first place. Is this necessarily bad? No. Does it help certain ideas circulate to a particular audience? Yes. Are we putting too much power in the hands of these journals by reacting this way to the idea of credit? Absolutely."

And as a result of highly valuing publishing in journals, we have created a system that is producing an avalanche of low-quality research.

Cathy's question makes me think of the work of physicist A. Garrett Lisi, who is working outside the traditional academe system and who's practice gave me insight to understand other ways of thinking about credit/reputation and also about gathering feedback for learning from a community:

"Lisi is developing social and intellectual capital by his strategy of working in public, and has posted a “pre-print” of some of his work in the highly visible High Energy Physics – Theory section of arXiv entitled 'An Exceptionally Simple Theory of Everything.'

"The Wikipedia entry on Lisi’s paper gives a picture of how the work has generated social capital and become a focus of theoretical debate. The paper has been accumulating peer reviews (in the form of blog posts) and a number of citations including in refereed Physics journals as well as comments on the social news website"

So, I think Cathy is pointing us to a multi-faced conversation about moving beyond the University (see John Seely Brown or Charles Ledbetter or Clay Shirkey) each of whom is exploring forces that I think will probably address Cathy's "damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don't moment" by rendering traditional publishers in academe irrelevant.

In her post Cathy says

"Shouldn't we be teaching the genre [scholarly monograph] to our undergraduates (because we believe it is intrinsically worthy enough to determine someone's career in the academy) as an estimable form? ... [If we] require at least one scholarly monograph in every English class, ... we show respect to the genre we say that we live by and we give back something to the publishers who, right now, are expected to publish our work but who experience abysmal sales of it."

Here, I think Cathy's comment brings academic publishing into the national conversation about university accountability to stakeholders (the students and those investing in them). Molly Corbett Broad wrote in the Chronicle about the political landscape for accreditation and accountability "The administration has already indicated a willingness to take action when it believes that higher-education institutions are not adequately serving students' interests." (alas it is "premium content" that you may not be able to access) I think Corbett and Shirkey are talking about forces that may render more than just traditional academic publishing irrelevant.

It strikes me that the scholarly monograph, as a discipline for the mind, could be useful, but it might not be a form "worth studying in every English class." It might be more useful for students to be developing skills in peer-to-peer pedagogies, based in forms like blogs and wikis, that operate in a context of information abundance rather than to be studying a form based on information scarcity and expensive publication; a form that will not be used by most students in their future careers.

Why do I focus on credit/reputation and legitimate peripheral participation rather than the academic monograph in a conversation about accountability for learning outcomes? Because, I think discovering conversations, contributing and getting feedback are important aspects of peer-to-peer learning beyond the university. Good feedback is a tool for growth, both for the author and for the community of lurkers (see John Seely Brown on legitimate peripheral participation.)

As to Cambridge University Press, et al. v. Patton et al., I think it will be a passing blip, swept away by much larger forces transforming learning.

PS. And thinking about feedback and peer-to-peer learning is why I'm posting this in my blog and then cross-posting it as a comment in Cathy's blog at HASTAC. HASTAC's blogs do not appear to support Trackback, so  I can't comment to Cathy in my blog, and consequently I need to post a comment in hers. Which means I need to create a HASTAC identity (see these objections to creating accounts everywhere). Further, a HASTAC comment does not track back to the people I cite - making it even harder for them to discover and join the conversation.


HI, Nils,  Sorry again about the hang-up with posting your excellent content.  We are in the midst of another major overhaul of our site and making commenting easier is on that distant horizon.


I wanted to emphasize that HASTAC has long been involved in the process of reevaluating what counts for tenure in the academy, including peer-to-peer forms of research.  I also co-chaired our open access policy (approved by Academic Council) here at Duke and I've become notorious, to say the least, for my "how to crowdsource grading" ideas.   So, on many levels, I'm all about peer-to-peer pedagogies and so is HASTAC.


In my article, I was specifically addressing the readers of ADE (Association of Departments of English) with a provocation designed to make them think about their own assumptions.   The numbers of English Departments--specifically English Departments--that requires publication of a monograph for tenure is over 80 percent.  I was shocked it was that hight.  And to me it is both hypocritical and self-hating to require a monograph of one's junior colleagues for tenure, and then to have the lowest rate of assigning and purchasing such monographs in scholarly publishing.   What's up with that?!


I want to change the standard but I've been working on that process for over a decade and the numbers are still over 80%.  So, in the short run, the utility is at least in showing the discrepancy between the stated, vaunted ballyhoo'ed value on the one hand and the actual purchasing and assigning practices on the other.    What kind of culture is that?   Where you say we set our future--our highest standard for acceptance into our club--by a genre we don't even respect enough to teach?    That is just so wrong on every level, not the least that then scholarly publishers are responsible for publishing a genre 300 or 400 people, at best, can be expected to read.   


Here's the ending of the essay (and you can read the entire one now, thanks to permission from MLA to reprint it on this blog:  


Ending of "Research Is Teaching"  by Cathy N. Davidson, ADE Bulletin:


A scholarly monograph is only one of many ways to communicate our research and ideas. The misalignment in the current academy between our requirements for tenure and our book-buying and book-assigning practices should inspire us to think about what constitutes the best form for conveying our research and ideas, to rethink the scholarly monograph as the only form. I am not suggesting a loosening of standards. Simply giving up standards means that you grant lifelong employment to whoever comes next and freeze out future scholars from the opportunity. An argument for better and more diverse standards is not an argument on behalf of no standards. Quite the opposite. 

HASTAC (pronounced haystack, an acronym for the Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Advanced Collaboratory) is a virtual network I cofounded with David Theo Goldberg and others in 2002 (see Davidson and Goldberg, Future of Thinking). We are currently joining task forces, commissions, and committees sponsored by the MLA and other professional associations to support tenure guidelines that endorse many different forms of scholarly production. Along with other professional organizations, we are insisting that multiple forms of publication (including online and multimedia) should be counted for tenure in our digital age. We are also supporting the work of other organizations in thinking through how those different modes of production might be assessed. Reassessing our mechanisms for evaluating the quality and quantity of scholarly productivity is a task long overdue.

However, I am a realist and know that even if every scholarly organization in the country endorsed a more flexible set of assessments for tenure and promotion, it might still be a decade (or two or three) before most departments of English vote for such a change. So while were all waiting for a change that must and eventually will come, I am suggesting a short-term fix whose benefits are immediate and significant. Teaching our research in the form that currently we say we value most is good for pedagogy and the best way to support our research now, today.

So, now together, everybody: Take out your syllabus for that upcoming course. Eliminate the course pack (admit it: your students dont read all those articles anyway). Substitute a few scholarly monographs that you believe best represent our profession and our ideals. Then think through, with your students, what a scholarly monograph is, what it does better than any other form, when it is essential to the practice of research and teaching in our profession and when it is not.

When the mode of our research becomes the subject of our teaching, we will be able to celebrate the best examples of our work in a way that inspires our students and is healthy for our profession. At the same time, a practice of reading scholarly monographs with an eye to teaching them should also help us see more clearly where and when the genre does not do the significant task that we say it does in our tenure committees.

If teaching scholarly monographs were required in the syllabi of any field that requires writing one for tenure, we would be able to evaluate its efficacy in a different way than we do now, when we read monographs mostly when someones entire career is at stake. Reading them together with our students in our classrooms will not only support authors and publishers in doing what we say they should be doing, it will also help us decide whether the scholarly monograph is really the be-all and end-all of what we do as researchers and as teachers.