Faculty Senate Narrowly Approves ‘Open Access’ Policy

Resolution would make university scholarship available to the public at no cost.

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University Librarian and Vice Provost for Libraries Geneva Henry presented details on the "open access" policy resolution.
February 18, 2015

By Brittney Dunkins

George Washington University faculty members would be required to submit all scholarly published work to the GW Libraries’ web-based digital repository following the Faculty Senate approval Friday of an “open access” policy.

The resolution will be referred to the Office of the Provost for final review.

The policy makes university scholarship available online with a Creative Commons Open Access license at no cost to students, faculty and the greater public.  The resolution narrowly passed by a vote of 12 to11 after much debate over how the policy would benefit faculty members, students and the university.

“Since 2005 there has been tremendous ground work in open access initiatives and policies at institutions and by funders,” said Geneva Henry, university librarian and vice provost for libraries. “In 2005, there were 152 total and by the end of 2014, there were a documented 623 worldwide—and there may be more out there.

“It’s an ever-growing list,” she added. “This is very much a trend, and it’s a good thing.”

In other actions, the Faculty Senate was updated on the adoption of a five-year budget-planning model for GW that will take effect in fiscal year 2016, received a presentation on the Sustainability Collaborative and another from the Student Association regarding the launch of a syllabi database on Blackboard.

GW joins more than 118 universities and research institutions in the United States that have identified as open access, according to Ms. Henry, who previously oversaw the implementation of an open access policy as the executive director of digital scholarship at Rice University.

Under the policy, scholarly materials—in this case articles, papers and other research, excluding books—will be held in GW ScholarSpace, a searchable digital repository that would serve as an archive for university scholarship. Faculty members will retain the copyrights to their work—unless otherwise relinquished to a publisher—and citation of the published works will be available.

Traditionally, scholarly and peer-reviewed works are accessible only through subscription services to journals and databases. Ms. Henry said this business model presents a growing financial burden to students, researchers and the university. She added that on average, the rate for subscriptions to journals has increased by 10 percent annually.

“There is a cost to the university of not capturing the scholarship of our faculty, and the work that is done here,” Ms. Henry said. “There is a cost when we are dependent on maintaining subscriptions to the journals that our faculty are publishing in…. Making it a policy is a way to have some impact.”

Ms. Henry also addressed concerns raised by Faculty Senate members about whether the policy would derail opportunities to have work published in prestigious journals, which are more inflexible about open access policies.

She said that the GW Libraries would provide the “GW Addendum to Publication Agreement” explaining the open access policy to publishers and work with faculty to negotiate with publishers on archiving the work. Finally, she said that a waiver would be granted to faculty members who have contracts with publishing companies that will not agree to an open access license.

“One thing we do not want is to prevent you from publishing,” Ms. Henry said. “Waivers are there in the event that you need them.”

Provost Steven Lerman announced the adoption of a recently passed resolution to establish a five-year budget-planning model that would help the university track projected costs and savings. The planning model will be implemented for the fiscal year 2016 budget.

“This is a great example of a recommendation coming from the senate that has truly been helpful,” Dr. Lerman said. “The real value—as we get better at matching our forecasts to actual outcomes—is that this will help us continue to guide—not just the short-term budget—but each time we ask the board to approve the budget, we can give them a sense of where we think the ship is going.”

Executive Director of the Sustainability Collaborative Kathleen Merrigan presented information about the university’s sustainability efforts and outlined how the Sustainability Collaborative will work to transform the university into a go-to resource for the federal government on sustainability research.

The collaborative would encompass GW’s 400 sustainability-related courses, the research of 170 faculty and 10 GW institutes that focus on sustainability, such as the Solar Institute. The collaborative also will include Planet Forward, the Capital Partners Solar Project and other efforts to green university operations.

She said that future goals include producing case studies of the federal government’s green efforts through funded research, streamlining green courses and developing “learning laboratories.”

“I see sustainability at GW really being about transformative teaching, learning and research through the concept of learning laboratories,” Dr. Merrigan said. “Let’s have real life problem solving where faculty and students work together in collaborative ways in situations on our campus, in our community and globally— it’s really about tackling beyond the books.”

A final announcement came from SA Vice President for Academic Affairs Alicia Rose on the launch next week of a Blackboard database where GW faculty members can upload their syllabi. She said the SA hopes the database will be operational for student use during summer 2015 registration.

“Whenever students are registering for courses, there is very little information for students to be able to make their decisions beyond the course descriptions,” Ms. Rose said. “What we are hoping to achieve by this, is for students to be able to make better informed decisions when they are registering for courses.”

A resolution to accept a revised Faculty Handbook was tabled for further review.