Much ado about the Harvard OA policy

The lyrics of one of Tom Lehrer’s most memorable songs come to mind: Fight Fiercely, Harvard!

Fight fiercely, Harvard, fight, fight, fight
Demonstrate to them our skill
Albeit they possess the might
Nonetheless we have the will …

During the two weeks since the vote on February 12 by the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Harvard to adopt an open access policy, there has been much comment and debate. Some examples:

Harvard Faculty Adopts Open-Access Requirement, The Chronicle of Higher Education News Blog, February 12, 2008. Excerpt:

The new policy will allow faculty members to request a waiver, but otherwise they must provide an electronic form of each article to the provost’s office, which will place it in an online repository.

Harvard faculty votes on Internet-based open “publishing”. Hilary Spencer, Nature Network forum, February 13, 2008. Excerpt:

Universities have long been interested in retaining some of the fruits of their researchers’ work, whether it has been via institutional repositories, databases, or eprint servers. In addition to making the results of research openly available, and thus benefiting the community as a whole, this proposal seems in part to be an attempt by Harvard to also retain copyright and distribution/licensing rights for their researchers’ work.

Harvard first to force open access, Andrea Gawrylewski, The blog, February 13, 2008. Excerpt, quoting Joseph Esposito:

The implications of Harvard’s decision are broad, but one thing that is likely to happen as a direct result of the decision is that companies with Open Access services may get acquired by traditional publishers …

Harvard open-access policy – can you please be more specific? Noah Gray, Action Potential, February 14, 2008. Excerpt:

That brings us to the main point. Harvard is extremely vague about exactly what this proposal covers. A smart move, if you ask me, because now they can stress any position or interpretation that they want, based on the response they receive.

Blog-style annotation and in-depth criticism: New niche for academic journals, in wake of Harvard open-access move? David Rothman, TeleRead: Bring the E-Books Home, February 17, 2008. Excerpt:

Will this kill off academic journals? Not all of them.

The smarter ones could adapt with better-than-ever peer review procedures and maybe even use a blog approach. They could link to the best research and also comment on the worst, while offering far, far more depth than a blog would.

Open access publishing: Harvard ups the ante, Elizabeth Pisani, The Wisdom of Whores, February 18, 2008. Excerpt:

The proposal, reproduced below, is a bit hazy on the timing of public posting. Does a piece of research only become a “scholarly article” once it has appeared in a journal?

Harvard adopts opt-out open-access policy, Nature 2008(20 Feb); 451: 879. (Subscription required). Excerpt:

Stuart Shieber, the computer scientist at Harvard who proposed the scheme, says that any request for an exemption will be granted. The university has not yet worked out how to define what constitutes a ‘final’ draft of a scholarly paper, nor come up with a time limit for submission.

Many comments have been compiled by Peter Suber and Gavin Baker in posts to Open Access News, and they provide a very useful guide through much of the labyrinth. In the list provided below, I’ve included a few excerpts that I thought were especially noteworthy.

Variations on the theme of the Harvard OA policy, February 22, 2008. About a post by Stevan Harnad, The Hybrid Copyright Retention and Deposit Mandate, Open Access Archivangelism, February 22, 2008.

More comments on the Harvard OA policy, February 22, 2008. One of the five comments is from John Mark Ockerbloom in Everybody’s Libraries. An excerpt:

This mandate is faculty-friendly as well as being open-access friendly, in that it minimizes the extra work faculty have to do and assures them the last word in access control, should they decide to exercise it. And that, I believe, is crucial to its having been adopted at all, and to its subsequent acceptance by faculty.

Stevan Harnad replies to Mike Carroll, February 21, 2008. Peter Suber adds some comments of his own. One of his comments is:

Because Harvard’s is the first university-level mandate to focus on permissions rather than deposits, it deserves a chance to show how well it can work.

More on the Harvard policy, February 21, 2008. Excerpts from an article by Lila Guterman in Chronicle of Higher Education, February 21, 2008 (accessible only to subscribers). Example:

Mr. Thatcher and others also wonder whether Harvard faculty members will actually make the effort to comply with the policy. But open-access supporters observe that faculty members themselves were the ones who voted for it.

Mike Carroll on OA, copyright, and the NIH and Harvard policies, February 20, 2008. About a cluster of three related posts by Mike Carroll. Excerpt from the first, NIH and Harvard – It’s About Values:

The key point is that this really is not a technical conversation. It’s a conversation about values….

“Other schools should follow Harvard’s lead”, February 19, 2008. Provides excerpts from: Open access to brilliant insights, Boston Globe, February 19, 2008.

More comments on the Harvard OA mandate, February 17, 2008. Two of the three articles cited suggest that other institutions should follow Harvard’s lead.

More on the Harvard mandate, February 15, 2008. Excerpts from: Heidi Ledford, Harvard adopts open-access policy, Nature News, February 15, 2008. One of the two excerpts:

[T]he university has not yet established a time limit for submission, nor have they defined what constitutes a ‘final’ draft of the paper. Harvard intends to establish an ‘office of scholarly communication’ to define these issues….

More comments on the Harvard OA mandate, February 15, 2008. Five comments are cited. One is from Dorothea Salo at Caveat Lector: Pyrrhic Victories: Excerpt:

I have a feeling the deafening silence coming from publishers right now is deliberate. Their only realistic hope is that the Harvard policy sinks like a stone in a vast sea of institutional indifference, and the best way for them to create that outcome is to keep their mouths shut so that the initial flurry of coverage and interest fades quicker.

Three on the Harvard OA mandate, February 14, 2008. Three comments are cited. The third (see heading: Shieber: Librarians Very Involved with Harvard OA Motion) quotes Stuart Shieber:

Open access repositories are not a substitute for journals. They are a complement to them. It is important that those processes continue, and to the extent that they involve expenses, universities and funding agencies will have to continue to pay for them.

Stevan Harnad’s proposed revisions to the Harvard policy, February 14, 2008. See: Weaken the Harvard OA Mandate To Strengthen It, Open Access Archivangelism, February 14, 2008. Excerpt (quoting Terry Martin of Harvard Law School, to whom Stevan Harnad is responding):

Stevan, I’m sure your version is preferable to the one actually passed by FAS. Some of us urged a more forceful approach. However, those with a better political sense thought otherwise.

More on the Harvard OA mandate, February 14, 2008. The several articles cited include one from T. Scott Plutchak at T. Scott. Excerpt:

That it [the Harvard policy] is driven by the faculty rather than being imposed from the outside is a very positive sign. Most important, however, is that a major university is taking a significant step towards managing its own scholarly production.

Roundup of commentary on Harvard OA policy, February 13, 2008. The various articles cited include one by Gavin Baker, Harvard faculty say yes to OA, Journal of Insignificant Inquiry, February 13, 2008. Excerpt:

… I want to focus on the fact that the faculty, through their own governance process, themselves approved this mandate.

Text of the Harvard policy, February 12, 2008. Excerpt:

To assist the University in distributing the articles, each Faculty member will provide an electronic copy of the final version of the article at no charge to the appropriate representative of the Provost’s Office in an appropriate format (such as PDF) specified by the Provost’s Office. The Provost’s Office may make the article available to the public in an open-access repository.

It’s obvious from all of these comments that the Harvard policy has been spectacularly successful at raising awareness about OA. But, to continue to be influential, the policy must be implemented successfully. Do faculty members at Harvard “have the will” to do this? Or, might they be apathetic (in the well-chosen words of Dorothea Salo, a “slumbering behemoth“) and, by ignoring the policy, thus defeat it?



  1. tillje said

    For an in depth commentary on the OA policy at Harvard, see: The open access mandate at Harvard, Peter Suber, SPARC Open Access Newsletter, issue #119, March 2, 2008.

  2. tillje said

    Another OA policy at Harvard:

    Law School Adopts Open Access for Scholarship, Athena Y. Jiang, The Harvard Crimson, May 7, 2008. Excerpt:

    Following a growing trend toward openness in academic scholarship, Harvard’s law faculty voted unanimously last Thursday to approve a policy that would make the school’s research articles free and publicly available.

    Harvard Law School will file all of its faculty members’ publications in an online database, the content of which will be available to members of the public, according to a statement. Members of the faculty will have the choice to opt out and to distribute their articles on their own Web sites, providing they do not profit from the publications.

    In February, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences made national headlines when it passed a similar policy …

    See also: Harvard Law School joins Harvard FAS in mandating OA, Peter Suber, Open Access News, May 7, 2008.

  3. tillje said

    See also: Stuart M. Shieber to lead new OSC, Harvard University Gazette, May 22, 2008. Excerpt (about Harvard’s new Office for Scholarly Communication):

    The OSC, which will be under the oversight of a faculty advisory committee, will be responsible for executing the University’s open-access policy. It will undertake many related activities, which could include the online distribution of Ph.D. dissertations and of gray literature (datasets, technical reports, occasional lectures), support for open-access journal publishing, and sponsoring of conferences. The OSC also will coordinate other University-wide open-access initiatives, and all the faculties of the University will be invited to join in a common effort to transmit scholarly articles to a central repository.

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