Kamdar: Open up, Yale

Yale’s Faculty Handbook highlights “two of the University’s essential purposes: to impart knowledge and to enlarge humanity’s store of knowledge.” As the Handbook is a guide to help professors further the mission of the University, it notes, “both are clearly inhibited when open publication, free discussion, or access to research are limited.”

Right now, though, we are failing in this mission. The vast majority of Yale’s research is locked down, unavailable to the world at large.

As members of the Yale community, we are lucky be part of a university that can afford to supply us with access to almost any scholarly journal or resource imaginable. But Yale has one of the largest endowments in the country; most schools are not so lucky. In fact, at many universities and libraries across the country, knowledge, in the form of scholarly articles, is blocked by both physical and monetary barriers.

However, there is a growing movement in the academic world toward providing “open access,” or free online access to research and articles hitherto only published in subscription based journals. Yale should join in the movement; it should push its faculty to make their articles available online by creating a free, open, University-supported repository of scholarly knowledge.

Many worry about the repercussions of making research publications more accessible. Yet most of these fears — that professors will lose money or their reputations and that peer review will go by the wayside — are merely misconceptions.

When authors of academic works submit their articles to journals, they give the journal full rights toward the publication of their work. When the authors cede their rights to their writing, they allow the journal to organize and edit the articles, run peer review and sell its publication. The journals charge a lot: A subscription to The Journal of Brain Research, for example, costs $23,655 per year, and the cost is increasing — subscription prices have risen more than 260 percent in the past 20 years. But the fees go straight to the publisher. Neither the author nor his or her institution is paid a cent.

Instead the author is paid in reputation. This often takes the form of publication in major journals or citations by other authors. The open nature of the Internet just make citation easier, however. In fact, recent research shows that articles available freely online are cited more often than those in print alone.

Although peer review is often mediated by journals, professors generally referee each other’s works on a volunteer basis. This review process is not lost when it comes to open-access publication; in fact there are currently over 4,200 peer-reviewed open-access journals.

Open-access publication, therefore, does not impinge on academic livelihood or integrity. The issue is thus one of social justice and responsibility. It is an opportunity for Yale to fulfill its own mission.

It is an opportunity at which many researchers have already leaped. Physicists and mathematicians across the world have been posting their articles on the free Web site arXiv.org for years. In addition, any research funded by the National Institutes of Health — which includes most biological and medicinal research done at Yale — must eventually be published openly.

Many universities have also joined the cause. Harvard University has already established an open-access policy. So has the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford School of Education, and the universities of Kansas and Oregon. Now Dartmouth University, Cornell University and the University of California, Berkeley, have signed onto the Compact for Open-Access Publishing Equity, committing their schools to help underwrite the charges required to republish articles in open-access journals.

Yale is notably absent from this list.

But openness at Yale is not unprecedented. The University has already started embracing the democratizing, educational nature of the Internet with its Open Yale Courses initiative; however, this isn’t enough.

Today begins Open Access Week, celebrated by universities and organizations worldwide. At Yale, Students for Free Culture is teaming up with librarians, fellows and professors at the Law School to spur the movement towards a digital repository. We have signed the Student Statement on The Right to Research, a letter of commitment to open-access ideals that currently has over 5 million student supporters.

But we cannot do it alone. Harvard’s policy came about through faculty leadership, and often movements for open access begin below the university administration. We must therefore help those around us to realize the benefits, the importance and the inevitability of open-access publishing. We must fight for the ideals behind our commitment to global education. We need to make our university aware that we believe in these values.

Professors and administrators have the ability to open Yale up; let’s let them know how important our mission really is.

Adi Kamdar is a sophomore in Calhoun College He is the President of Students for Free Culture.

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