By Shan Sutton

At my home institution, the University of Arizona, the Faculty Senate recently passed an Open Access policy that follows the standard model of directing faculty authors to deposit the final accepted manuscripts of their articles into our institutional repository. As an Arizona alum and OA advocate, I’m doubly pleased that that the Faculty Senate embraced the principle of making the university’s scholarship more widely accessible. Having gone down this path twice, once at Oregon State University and now at Arizona, I’ve been thinking about faculty motivations and how they relate to OA policy compliance.

The trend among institutional OA policies in the United States has been to express expectations for faculty members to deposit their article manuscripts with a non-exclusive license to the university, but with no mechanisms to ensure compliance. In this approach, faculty participation seems primarily motivated by the benefits of wider readership of one’s work, potentially leading to more citations while lowering economic barriers that prevent some readers from accessing research articles.

These are excellent reasons to pursue deposit in an institutional repository, and to validate them libraries look to expand the ways in which the uses of deposited manuscripts are tracked. Statistical measures (traditional and alt-metric alike) are important in this regard, and I think qualitative approaches such as the stories gathered from repository users on Harvard’s “Your Story Matters” site will become increasingly popular.

While some institutions have achieved respectable levels of faculty uptake with this approach, one wonders if a right-sized compliance mechanism would secure higher levels of faculty participation. OA policies developed by research funders certainly don’t rely solely on author buy-in to the notions of wider readership and the benefits of public access. They tend to implement compliance strategies involving the direct or implied threat of lost future funding if a grantee doesn’t comply with article deposit requirements. Universities are not going to mimic this approach with threats of wage garnishment for non-compliance with their OA policies. Yet, I’ve been a little surprised that none of the fifty-plus American universities with OA policies have taken a page from the University of Liège’s playbook by putting passive compliance measures in place.

The Liège model is pretty simple: faculty are free to publish in whatever journals they wish, but for articles to be considered as part of their evaluations for annual performance, promotions, and similar matters, their final accepted manuscripts must be deposited in the institutional repository. Once ingested, the manuscript becomes Open Access if publisher policies and embargoes allow.

While there is no direct penalty to faculty who neglect to deposit, University of Liège Rector Emeritus Bernard Rentier explains a system of passive compliance pressures, “What happens is that when we make decisions about promoting a researcher, or awarding a grant, we can only take into consideration those publications that the researcher has deposited in ORBi. All staff are told that publications submitted by any means (hard copy, disk, email, etc.) other than depositing them in the repository can no longer be processed in our new system, so they can no longer be taken into consideration.” He continues, “[The policy] does not impose sanctions on anyone who chooses to be refractory. Of course, they cannot expect any help or support from the institution, and they will feel largely underestimated by the authorities, by their colleagues, by external researchers, and by the public at large. But that’s the only consequence of not depositing. Nevertheless, that does generally provide a sufficient stimulus to encourage everybody to comply!”

The University of Liège’s policy is based on its commitment to comprehensively collect and provide access to the scholarship of its faculty. It seems reasonable for this objective to be accomplished by linking an OA policy with efforts to compile the official record of faculty scholarship for performance and promotion evaluations. In an American context, this approach would appear consistent with the mission of public, and especially land grant, universities.

So why haven’t any American universities taken this path? Is it a fear of faculty backlash, and the prospect of turning off faculty by connecting an OA policy to the performance review process? Is the ubiquity of the Harvard model, which grants the university a non-exclusive license to faculty manuscripts but doesn’t include direct or indirect compliance mechanisms, an underlying factor? Or is it just too complicated in terms of coordinating all of the moving parts compared to launching “traditional” OA policies?

Over the past few years I have encountered Deans who were potentially interested in taking a Liège-like position in their respective colleges. While nothing tangible has resulted from these discussions yet, I suspect this kind of approach might actually work best at the level of colleges, schools, or other academic units. Once the concept is successful at those levels, perhaps this practice could find its way into future institution-wide OA policies.

At any rate, it’s encouraging to see OA policies continue to be approved by faculty senates and comparable bodies. As the number of such policies increases it seems advisable to consider how their implementations might link to faculty activity tracking systems as a passive compliance mechanism to facilitate greater participation and impact.

Shan Sutton

Shan Sutton is Dean of University Libraries at the University of Arizona, where he advocates for models in which academia assumes responsibility for preserving and disseminating the scholarship its members produce. Sutton also asserts the principles of Open Access truly began with Grateful Dead tape trading.

Comments (1)

  1. i entirely agree that a Liège-like approach would be the most effective, and also the fairest, way to make sure IRs get properly populated with faculty publications in Green OA form. Faculty are required to follow certain procedures with respect to patent filings; there is no reason they shouldn’t be required to follow procedures that would ensure the submission of their articles to their university IRs.

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