Harvard Faculty Mandates OA

By Peek, Robin | Information Today, April 2008 | Go to article overview

Harvard Faculty Mandates OA


Peek, Robin, Information Today


On Feb. 12, Harvard's Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) unanimously voted to permit the president and fellows of Harvard College to make their scholarly articles available as well as exercise the copyright in those articles. By doing so, Harvard became the first major university in the U.S. to embrace an open access (OA) mandate for a considerable portion of its faculty. Moreover, it is the first faculty to impose such a requirement upon itself instead of having it be required by the administration.

In legal terms, the permission specifically granted by each faculty member is a nonexclusive, irrevocable, paid-up, worldwide license to exercise any and all rights under copyright relating to each of his or her scholarly articles, in any medium, and to authorize others to do the same, provided that the articles are not sold for a profit.

Now, some explanations are in order. Harvard is a fiercely compartmentalized institution, long known for its "each tub on its own bottom" approach to governance. The Faculty of Arts and Sciences encompasses Harvard College, the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, and the Division of Continuing Education. Hence, the mandate does not apply to the Medical School, Law School, Divinity School, and so forth.

I admit to being surprised that a unit of the Harvard faculty would be the first body in the U.S. to impose an institutional mandate upon itself, even if it is by definition a partial mandate of Harvard as a whole. I expected that the more OA-friendly havens such as Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Cornell University, Stanford University, the University of Michigan, or even the University of California (UC) system would have been first in line. To its credit, the University of California faculty is considering a similar proposal. If voted in, it could grant UC the first institutionwide OA mandate.

Stuart Shieber, a professor of computer science in Harvard's School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, along with James O. Welch Jr. and Virginia B. Welch, says, "Harvard's historically strong collections budget, including its serials collection, may have insulated faculty from the realities of the serials crisis a bit longer than some institutions." He adds: "At Harvard, serials duplication has been all but eliminated and serious cancellation efforts have been initiated. Monograph collecting has been substantially affected as well. In total, our faculty have seen qualitative reductions in access to the literature."

Shieber, who is credited with leading the FAS to its vote, also says: "There actually has been a great deal of interest among some faculty in OA for principled reasons for quite some time. The conflation of these two factors--principled interest in opening access to scholarly articles and increased appreciation for the real effect of pricing on access--led to the current actions by Harvard faculty."

The Opt-Out Option

One feature that sets that Harvard policy apart is that the system will be "collective but not coercive. "The Harvard system would have all faculty members grant nonexclusive permission to the president and fellows of Harvard to distribute their articles. Robert Darnton, director of the Harvard University Library, says: "Anyone who wanted to retain exclusive rights to her- or himself could do so by obtaining a waiver. …

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