Do the Right Thing

Interestingly, Insider Higher Ed pitches this story as a survival story (“Survival — Through Open Access“) but I think that’s hardly the most interesting point. What’s interesting is that the Utah State University Press’ recent self-transformation brings us one step closer to a systematic embrace of open access as the governing principal in the U.S. academy.

I don’t like the “survival” label for the same reason that I don’t like the idea that “green energy” is going to “save” the U.S.– and world– economy. In some technical sense both of those things might be true but these are also things that move the economy in novel, more democratic directions. We don’t need the old ways to survive, we need to build something new.

The idea of open access in education is not to allow traditional academic culture to survive unchanged once the current fiscal problems have passed. The goal is to take the opportunity– created by technological change as much as the financial dilemmas– to make academia (and the energy sector) into something very different. Let the banks survive; we need a better higher education system.

The Utah strategy will be one of the important tests of the old status system under a new ‘open’ era. Will free journals become the “lower tier” of academic publishing, less valued as cultural capital by the upper tier of journals funded through paid subscription? Will we have two tiers of publishing, one for the wealthy research institutions, and another for the rest of us? Time will tell.

An addendum: I was just pointed (via the TechRhet list) to an “Inside Higher Ed” piece, “A Call for Copyright Rebellion,” which summarizes a recent talk by Lawrence Lessing, “the Harvard University law professor and renowned open-access advocate.” Lessing seems remarkably distant from political economics, given his subject, but I like the way the piece ends:

“We should see a resistance to imposing the Britney Spears model of copyright upon the scientist or the educator,” he said. “…But if you would expect that, you would be very disappointed by what we see out there in the scientific and and education communities.” Scholars, he said, have allowed the copyright conversation to be steered by lawyers and businesses who are not first and foremost to intellectual discovery.

To them, Lessig delivered a simple message: “Stop it.”

About Ray Watkins

I was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, at Our Lady of the Lake Hospital. I grew up in Houston, as a part of what we only half-jokingly call the Cajun Diaspora. At a certain point during the Regan administration, I had to leave, so I served in the Peace Corps, Philippines, from 1987-89. I didn't want to return to the United States just yet, so I moved to Paris, France, where I lived for three years or so. I then moved back to Austin, Texas, where I had received my Masters Degree, and (eventually) began a Ph.D., which I completed in 1999. I spent a year at Temple University and then accepted a position at Eastern Illinois University where I worked until May of 2006. I now work exclusively on line (although that may change) for Johns Hopkins, the Art Institute Online, and I can be reached most easily via email: raywatkins [that 'at' symbol]

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