Unanimous faculty votes
SPARC Open Access Newsletter, issue #146
June 2, 2010
by Peter Suber
One year ago today there were 12 known cases of unanimous faculty votes for institutional OA policies.

Today there are more than twice as many.  Here's a quick review and update.

The policies I've collected here are not all the university-based green OA policies.  Not by a long shot:  ROARMAP lists 90. 

I'm not including policies adopted by administrators rather than faculty, and I'm not including policies adopted by non-unanimous faculty votes, even when the tally was very high, such as the 98% supermajority at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.  Nor am I including policies limited to student theses and dissertations.

This is a special subset of green OA policies showing a very wide base of faculty support.  It's worth isolating because it provides especially strong evidence against the contention that faculty are indifferent or resistant to OA and "must be coerced" by mandates.  That contention always ignored the survey evidence, got too much mileage out of the word "mandate", and failed to take into account that mandates can be self-imposed by faculty, even self-imposed with enthusiasm and unanimity.

Surveys of researcher attitudes have consistently showed that an overwhelming majority do not resent OA mandates and would willingly comply with one from their funder or university.  See for example the high levels of support reported by Alma Swan (81%, 2005) and Kumiko Vézina (83%, 2008).

The unanimous faculty votes confirm these studies and take us further.  Faculty will not only accept green OA mandates and comply with them.  They will initiate efforts to draft and adopt them, and then vote for them.  At an increasing rate since early 2008, they will vote for them unanimously.

This special subset also jolts us to recognize the kind of consensus that is growing among faculty.  When was the last time the faculty on your campus voted unanimously for a substantive policy of any kind?  As unanimous votes become commonplace, we have to work to remember how rare and revealing they are.

Of the votes I've collected here, a good majority (16 out of 27, or 59%) adopted OA mandates.  Wide support for OA doesn't always coincide with wide support for the strongest kind of policy.  But more often than not, it actually does. 

The evidence provided by these unanimous faculty votes contrasts with other kinds of evidence showing less strong or less uniform faculty support.  Let me pull some of this evidence together and show how to fit it into one larger, consistent picture.

* First there is the evidence that faculty are still largely unaware of OA or misunderstand it.

For example, an April 2007 report commissioned by Research Information Network, and undertaken by Key Perspectives, found that:

Of the researchers we consulted, only about 1 in 10 were able to show that they fully understood what is meant by open access....Even if they are familiar with the concept, researchers are much less familiar with how to make their own research output available on an open access basis....Our survey shows a significant discrepancy between the proportion of librarians who say their institution has an open access institutional repository (52%) and the proportion of researchers who believe that their institution has such a repository (15%)...."

More than a year later Kumiko Vézina found that only 57% of surveyed faculty "knew the concept" of OA, and only 31% knew the concept of self-archiving.  Follow-up questions showed that this "knowledge" was closer to nodding acquaintance than clear understanding.  Only 14% knew whether their university had an OA repository.

It's not hard to reconcile this evidence with the unanimous faculty votes.  Most faculty are not familiar with their OA options, especially their green OA options, and still labor under misunderstandings. 

Campuses where faculty members vote unanimously for OA policies, especially for strong OA mandates, are not random exceptions to this current trend.  They are cultivated exceptions to this current trend.  More, they are gradually reversing the trend itself.  They are campuses where policy proponents have carefully educated their colleagues about the issues and patiently answered their questions, objections, and misunderstandings.

One lesson:  If your campus is considering an OA policy, be patient.  Let the education process take as long as it takes.  Make sure that objections and misunderstandings are answered before the vote, and make sure that the policy language doesn't invite objections and misunderstandings.

* Second there is evidence that when faculty pick a journal in which to publish their work, they rank OA comparatively far down on their list of criteria. 

The Ithaka Faculty Survey 2009 (April 2010) presented faculty with six possible criteria for selecting a journal in which to publish, and OA ranked sixth out of six.  In fact, Ithaka asked the same question in two previous surveys, and the rank of the OA criterion fell between 2003 and 2006.  (See pp. 25-26 and Figure 23.)

The top-ranked criterion (in 2003, 2006, and 2009) was that "The current issues of the journal are circulated widely, and are well read by scholars in your [field]".  Putting that criterion first and OA sixth was constant across fields, including fields (like physics and economics) with active preprint archiving cultures.

BTW, the faculty ranking for gold OA wasn't absolutely low; it was just low compared to other criteria.  40% of faculty said that gold OA was "very important". 

I don't dispute the Ithaka findings.  In fact, I've often argued myself that scholars will choose prestige in their field over OA, when they have to choose.  I've only tried to make clear that they rarely have to choose.

Again, it's not hard to reconcile this evidence with the evidence of the unanimous faculty votes.  The Ithaka finding is about gold OA, and the unanimous faculty votes are about green OA. 

Green OA policies allow faculty to submit their work to the journals of their choice.  One of the primary reasons why OA mandates focus on green rather than gold OA (or repositories rather than journals) is precisely to preserve this sort of academic freedom. 

When the high-profile journals in a field are TA, then a green OA policy allows faculty to have the best of both worlds:  prestige from the journal publishing the article and OA from the institutional repository.  It's not at all surprising that faculty, or faculty who understand their OA options, will take the best of both worlds when they can.  That explains both the preference for high-profile journals and the support for green OA.

Meantime, more and more OA journals are moving into the top cohort of prestige and impact in more and more fields, a second reason why authors rarely have to choose between prestige and OA.

The Ithaka study also looked at attitudes toward green OA, and found that less than 30% of faculty have already self-archived in an institutional or disciplinary repository.  The number goes up about 10% if we add in personal web pages.  Almost 80% plan to self-archive in the future, and more than 90% plan to do so if we count posting their work to personal web pages.  (See p. 27, Figure 27.)

If nothing else, these strands of evidence tell us that faculty attitudes toward OA are complex.  Attitudues toward gold OA are not the same as attitudes toward green OA.  Unanimous votes for green OA policies tell us little or nothing about support for gold OA; and conversely, attitudes toward gold OA tell us little or nothing about support for green OA.  Unanimous support for green OA after a patient process of education tells us little or nothing about support for green OA in the absence of that kind of education. 

* The unanimous faculty votes

Here are the 12 unanimous votes I identified a year ago today, chronological by vote.

1. Harvard University, Faculty of Arts and Sciences (February 12, 2008)

2. Macquarie University, University Senate and Council (April 27, 2008)

3. Harvard University, School of Law (May 7, 2008)

4. Stanford University, School of Education (June 10, 2008)

5. Boston University, University Faculty Council (February 11, 2009)

6. Oregon State University, Library Faculty (March 6, 2009)

7. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (March 18, 2009)

8. University of Calgary, Division of Library and Cultural Resources, Faculty Council (May 2009)

9. University of Pretoria, University Senate (May 2009)

10. University of Oregon, Library Faculty (May 7, 2009)

11. University of Oregon, Department of Romance Languages (May 14, 2009)

12. Gustavus Adolphus College, Library Faculty (May 14, 2009)

Here are the unanimous votes that took place or were publicly announced since then.

13.  University College London, Academic Board (October 2008) (announced June 3, 2009)

14. York University, librarians and archivists (October 1, 2009)

15. Universidad de Oriente (Venezuela), Academic Council (October, 2009)

16. Oberlin College (November 18, 2009)

17. University of Northern Colorado, Library Faculty (December 2, 2009)

18. Wake Forest University, Library faculty (February 1, 2010)

19. Oregon State University College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences (COAS) (February 12, 2010)

20. University of Virginia (February 24, 2010)

21. Rollins College Faculty of Arts and Sciences (February 25, 2010)

22. Duke University, Academic Council (March 18, 2010)

23. University of Puerto Rico School of Law (March 24, 2010)

24. San Jose State University, Faculty Senate (April 19, 2010)

It may seem that a unanimous faculty vote is easy to identify.  But here are three borderline cases omitted from the lists above.

25. University of Helsinki (May 26, 2008) (announced June 5, 2008)
The vote was unanimous by the "university management team".  I can't tell what sort of faculty representation was on the team or what sort of faculty consultation the team undertook.

26. Copenhagen Business School (June 2009)
The vote was by the Executive Management Team, consisting of the President, Dean of Research, Dean of Education and Director of Administrative Affairs, who voted after consulting with the Academic Council and Heads of Departments and Directors of Centers.

27.  Harvard Graduate School of Education (June 1, 2009)
In the vote, there were a few absentions but no dissents. 

Here are a few quick breakdowns of these 27 policies:

Six were from 2008, and 14 from 2009, more than doubling the pace from the previous year.  There have been seven to date in 2010.  If we continue at that pace (7 in 5 months, or 1.4 per month, or 16.8 in 12 months), then 2010 will surpass 2009.

The unanimous votes come from eight countries:  Australia, Canada, Denmark, Finland, South Africa, UK, USA (including Puerto Rico), and Venezuela.

Three are from liberal arts colleges (Gustavus Adolphus, Oberlin, and Rollins), the rest from research universities.

Ten of the policies apply to whole institutions (Boston, Duke, Helsinki, Macquarie, MIT, Oberlin, Pretoria, San Jose State, Universidad de Oriente, Virginia), and the rest apply to schools or departments within larger institutions.  Of the latter, seven apply to library faculty, two to faculties of arts and sciences, and one each to business schools, schools of education, and departments of romance languages.

Eleven of the votes were by the faculty senate or some similar body (Boston, Calgary, Copenhagen, Duke, Helsinki, Macquarie, Pretoria, San Jose State, Universidad de Oriente, University College London, Virginia) and the rest by the full faculty of the relevant institution, school, or department.

Sixteen of the policies are mandates (Copenhagen, Duke, Harvard Education, Harvard FAS, Harvard Law, Helsinki, Macquarie, MIT, Oberlin, Oregon Languages, Oregon Library, Pretoria, Rollins, Puerto Rico Law, Stanford Education, Wake Forest Library).  The rest encourage green OA without requiring it, create an opt-out for publishers (as opposed to an opt-out for faculty), or express the policy as an aspiration, pledge, or commitment.  In one case I don't have enough information to classify the policy (Universidad de Oriente).

* Postscript 1.  There can clearly be strong faculty support for OA even at institutions without unanimous votes and at institutions without policies.  Wherever faculty support OA, they can self-archive on their own, even while the wheels turn, sometimes slowly, for the creation of an effective institutional policy.  If you support green OA, work for a good policy at your institution, answer the questions and misunderstandings of your colleagues, self-archive without waiting for a policy, and encourage your colleagues to self-archive as well.

* Postscript 2.  Later today I'll open a version of this list of unanimous votes on the Open Access Directory (a wiki) for community updating.  If my list has any errors or omissions, please fix them directly on the wiki version. 


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