University Of California Sides With Journal Publishers Over Its Own Struggling Libraries

from the and-against-the-taxpayers dept

There’s been a push in recent years to open access to publicly funded research. The reasoning behind the push is solid: the public is paying for this research via federal funding, therefore it should have access to what it’s paid for. The resistance usually comes from journal publishers who are very concerned about their main source of revenue — access fees (usually on the “exorbitant” side) charged to university libraries. (Most publishers also charge writers a submission fee and grant themselves control of the copyright.)

Current law says that, for NIH funded research, there’s a requirement for public access once the journals have been properly “windowed” by the publishers. After 12 months of publisher exclusivity, the publications are unlocked. A few recent bills have attempted to roll this back to six months, something the publishers have greeted with cries of dismay, including the hilarious assertion that opening public access six months early would “waste taxpayers’ money.”

California is another state exploring cutting the current window in half and, like every other attempt, it’s been greeted by opposition from publishers uninterested in a 50% gravy train reduction. This is the expected response. What’s completely unexpected is hearing a university side with the publishers against its own cash-strapped libraries.

The University of California system spends nearly $40 million every year to buy access to academic journals, even though many of the articles are written, reviewed, and edited by UC professors. So you’d think the cash-strapped UC system would leap to back any effort to undermine the absurd science publishing system.

You’d think. But you’d be wrong.

Hearings into the bill were scheduled for last week, but were delayed so that the bill could be modified in order to earn the support of the University of California – the flagship higher education system in the state, and the host of millions of dollars in state-funded research.

When I first heard this I was excited. “Finally,” I thought, “UC is stepping up to the plate and taking a strong stance in support of open access.” Then I read the letter UC had sent.

Adrian Diaz, the University of California’s Legislative Director, wrote that UC was “supportive of the legislation’s intent” but would only support it if the embargo period were extended to one year, and if its own grant programs were exempted from the bill’s requirements.

UC’s letter seems to have the guiding hand of a concerned publisher behind it. It asks for the “embargo” to be set at the federal level — 12 months — expressing “concern” about a shorter time frame and saying that matching California’s with the federal standard would “help avoid confusion and promote compliance with the law.”

Oddly, the thought never occurred to UC to throw its support behind the bill seeking to set the national standard to 6 months in order to “avoid confusion.” In other words, UC supports what’s already in place and, if things do change, it should be exempt from the requirements. The letter also expresses a more real concern.

A twelve month embargo period will also allow publishers, including small publishers and scholarly societies, to meet their needs for revenue while ensuring long-term public access to published research.

That’s all well and good — for the publishers. And this letter sides completely with the publishers, even adding a vague threat/warning that some journals may reject submissions coming from a state with only a 6-month “embargo” period. That’s a rather stunning statement. It suggests that journal publishers will be more than willing to compile only the most profitable research, rather than the most pertinent or accurate.

On top of that, UC is siding against its own library system in its support of publishers.

[I]t is even more troubling that a university whose libraries are facing budget cuts every year while they try to keep up with the ever-increasing cost of journal subscriptions would cite publishers’ need for revenue as their guiding principle when judging policies related to scholarly publishing.

How can Diaz DEFEND this system?? A system in which universities fork over billions of dollars of public money every year in order to buy back access to papers researchers gave to publishers for free? A system that is bankrupting our libraries? A system that denies people access to research their tax dollars paid for?

UC’s letter of support for a system that extracts $40M in fees annually from the university system for research the government paid for (and authors paid to submit) is as baffling as it is infuriating. As it stands now, the system is unsustainable for the university and yet, it makes a statement asking for the status to remain firmly quo, even as its own librarians are cutting subscriptions to keep costs manageable.

This research was paid for by the public but the publishers are primarily concerned with keeping knowledge locked up and the public at arm’s length. It’s disappointing (and alarming) that a major university would sympathize and support the expected publisher behavior.

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Comments on “University Of California Sides With Journal Publishers Over Its Own Struggling Libraries”

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26 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Solutio

A law like you suggest would clearly be unconstitutional if passed at the national level (Congress has very little business telling the University of California what journals it can or cannot buy, not to mention it being a freedom of the press issue), and it would cripple your state’s universities if passed at the state level.

Anonymous Coward says:

Who tricked UC into believing that they need the publishers to succeed?

This brings back a memory I have of when the student government at my college was looking to set up a website like ebay where you could buy used books from other students. It failed pretty quick because the school bookstore (Barnes and Noble owned) would lose profits and it would therefore hurt the school because 10% of profits went to the school. They convinced the school it would lose money by providing a better service and helping students….

Anonymous Coward says:

Not only is locking up papers funding by the tax payers locking up valuable knowledge, it’s also putting the tax payer funding for such research in danger.

Some republicans have been pushing to repeal the NIH funding entirely under the justification of it being a waste of money because it’s locked up from the public.

(the people trying to get rid of the funding are people who think the government shouldn’t even be funding universities or colleges. And the NIH and the papers are part of the education system they think the government shouldn’t be funding)

Anonymous Coward says:

I think I figured part of this out.

My guess is that the University of California is going to be buying these journals whether the embargo period is 6 months or 12 months. Their researchers are simply not going to put up with having to wait that long to see the latest research.

Since they are going to be buying them anyway, they may as well support the 12 month window instead of the 6 month. They may be afraid that a 6 month window will cause the publishers to raise their prices to attempt to cover the loss of revenue.

And the request to “exempt itself” makes sense. An internal grant should probably not be affected by the bill. But if they are NOT exempt, at the very least the bill should say so explicitly. From the letter, they are currently unsure whether the bill would cover them or not. Which likely means it will end up in court. We may as well save ourselves the hassle and determine this NOW, before the bill becomes law.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Not quite. Even Harvard with its huge endowment had to announce they are cutting their journal subscriptions because they can’t afford the prices publishers are charging. Libraries are cutting journals left and right because they have no choice, and with a six month window they could at least provide access to the released information in a marginally acceptable time-frame. Six months is a long time for some disciplines, but at least it would be better than a year.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Hear! Hear! As a librarian who works in acquisitions, you have no idea how wonderful it is to hear that people other than librarians care about this situation. My colleagues and I spend so much time telling the same people over and over again about what is going on with this stuff, and have to say it again next time we get our budget cut. Then when the university gets dinged by the accreditors because we don’t have enough resources, the librarians get the blame.

tqk (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

My colleagues and I spend so much time telling the same people over and over again about what is going on with this stuff, and have to say it again next time we get our budget cut.

Have you been telling it to the Adrian Diaz’s of the world? You may be telling the wrong people. You librarians should get together across academia and determine who are all the Adrian Diazes out there, then hit them all hard simultaneously. Cc: the parents of all the paying students who’re taxpayers being fleeced by this ridiculous system.

I also wonder why the researchers put up with this. Were I doing research, I’d want to get my results out to others in my field ASAP so they could more easily attempt to replicate my results. Do an end run around them and pipe it to The Pirate Bay to torrent it!

Jay (profile) says:

Students, meet bus

You know, I hear a lot from publishers and authors along with directors and all of these top level people.

But I’d really love to hear what the students and the teachers have to say about being thrown under the bus for someone else deciding that they need to pay more money in access to information.

Can someone explain why a student should pay more tuition when America is already more expensive in regards to college tuition?

Binko Barnes (profile) says:

This article constantly cites “UC’s letter of support…” or states that “UC’s position is…” and so forth. How about digging a little and telling us WHO exactly wrote this letter or formulated this position?

Most likely it was some committee of highly overpaid administrators who are completely detached from both faculty and student body. Some small body of managers in the vast UC system is essentially making a decision that is obviously contrary to the best interests of the students, the faculty and researchers.

But this is no surprise. American Corporations as well as Universities and other government agencies are now basically run for the benefit of the Manager class who have accrued all power and control and reap the majority of the financial gains.

And one thing is certain: these managers and administrators who decide this kind of policy feel vastly more kinship with the managers at the big academic publishers than they do with the students or the faculty at the University.

Anonymous Howard (profile) says:

What is this folly

If I get it right:
1. the university fund a research with tax money
2. the researcher need to pay a fee to the publisher, plus have to give up it’s copyright for the paper, to get it published
3. the university then buys back the paper from the publisher for exorbitant prices.

I’m not from the USA, could someone explain me why do research papers need to be given to publishers in the first place, especially with ridiculous terms?
What’s the rationale behind point 2?

tqk (profile) says:

Re: What is this folly

… 2. the researcher need to pay a fee to the publisher, plus have to give up its copyright for the paper to get it published …

What’s the rationale behind point 2?

Researchers have allowed themselves to be convinced that their research can only advance their career if it’s published in certain specific journals respected by their peers in their field. “Nature” & etc. are respected by tradition; their alternatives, not so much.

JackOfShadows (profile) says:

California Constitution

When the state’s Constitution was drafted one of the main provisions, in order to attract women of childbearing age to the state back then, was lower cost higher education. I haven’t read the thing in decades, but I have to wonder how consistent this letter/position is with the current Constitution of the California Republic.

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