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MIT Will Publish All Faculty Articles Free in Online Repository (2009 Decision)

Charlotte Brammer, Samford University

An important development in the open access arena occurred March 18, 2009, when MIT faculty voted unanimously to publish their scholarly articles free in an online repository.  The complete policy, including key definitions and FAQs, is available from the university’s library,

The policy states:

Each Faculty member grants to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology nonexclusive permission to make available his or her scholarly articles and to exercise the copyright in those articles for the purpose of open dissemination. In legal terms, each Faculty member grants to MIT 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, provided that the articles are not sold for a profit, and to authorize others to do the same. The policy will apply to all scholarly articles written while the person is a member of the Faculty except for any articles completed before the adoption of this policy and any articles for which the Faculty member entered into an incompatible licensing or assignment agreement before the adoption of this policy. The Provost or Provost’s designate will waive application of the policy for a particular article upon written notification by the author, who informs MIT of the reason. (MIT-Open Access Policy)

Similar to policies of other schools, MIT’s policy grants the school “nonexclusive” rights, meaning faculty “retain ownership and complete control of the copyright in [their] writings, subject only to this prior license. [Faculty authors] can exercise [their] copyrights in any way [they] see fit, including transferring them to a publisher ” (MIT-Open Access Policy). As noted in the Library Journal, this open access policy is but the latest attempt of MIT to increase knowledge sharing, much as the university has done with DSpace, which will be the locus for faculty publications, and the “OpenCourseWare (OCW) project, launched in 2001 with the goal of making all MIT course materials available, free of charge, to anyone on the web.”

MIT faculty “is committed to disseminating the fruits of its research and scholarship as widely as possible” (MIT-Open Access Policy).  Unlike open access policies of other institutions, namely Harvard’s Arts and Sciences and Law Schools, MIT’s policy involves all faculty at the university, making it the first to do so. Given the university’s position in key technical and scientific fields, this action is significant and may indeed add some peer pressure on other universities to follow suit.

Faculty members can choose to “opt out” of the open access process by submitting their name, publication title and source, as well as reason for opting out. According to the FAQ on MIT’s website, this option was preserved primarily for the protection of junior faculty members who may want (or need) to work with certain publishers that may view the open access policy unfavorably. What was not stated, but seems obvious, is simply that attempting to coerce faculty to comply with an open access policy would be counterproductive and counterintuitive. The idea is to share knowledge and to assist rather than harm faculty.  

Knowledge sharing is important for faculty and for institutions of higher education. Faculty are expected to produce knowledge and to publish. Indeed, the “publish or perish” paradigm continues to pervade colleges and universities, perhaps most extensively at R1 institutions. In addition to publishing, however, citations have become increasingly important in terms of earning and demonstrating prestige, yet citations can be limited when article distribution is limited to expensive subscriptions. MIT’s FAQs mention two important findings: (1) “Studies show a very large citation advantage for open access articles, ranging from 45% to over 500%,” and (2) “the 5 largest journal publishers now account for over half of total market revenues, and over the past 15 years, the price of scholarly journals has grown roughly three times as fast as the Consumer Price Index.” 

It is easy to see that open access publications that are indexed by broad search engines, such as the very popular Google Scholar, will have many more potential hits and thus readers than those articles that are not indexed by these search engines. Even though many journal publishers now index through these search engines as a marketing tool, potential readers have to pay for access, and thus they often search for other sources that are available via open access. Publishers, therefore, may cry foul as they see threats to profits. Yet, moves toward open access continue.

Scholarly publishing is changing, and open access policies, such as MIT’s, are both pushing for change and reacting against change that has already occurred. As scholarly publishing moves away from small, discipline-specific, professional groups to commercial publishing firms, scholars and universities are developing new ways to share knowledge broadly.

Works Cited

Albanese, Andrew. “Another First, As MIT Faculty Adopts “University-Wide” Open Access Policy. Library Journal. (25 Mar. 2009).

MIT Faculty Open Access Policy.

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