The Faculty Advisory Council for the Libraries at Harvard recently sent out the following call to arms:

To: Faculty Members in all Schools, Faculties, and Units

RE: Periodical Subscriptions

We write to communicate an untenable situation facing the Harvard Library. Many large journal publishers have made the scholarly communication environment fiscally unsustainable and academically restrictive. This situation is exacerbated by efforts of certain publishers (called “providers”) to acquire, bundle, and increase the pricing on journals…

You can read the rest of the letter here, which concludes with nine propositions that the FAC asks faculty and librarians to “please consider,” including publishing in open-access journals, working with editorial boards, and making contract terms public. The FAC’s effort to inspire change is admirable and welcomed (albeit vaguely worded) but it fails to address two important players in the scholarly communication process: the role of tenure and the university administration.

To the latter, libraries and faculty need to urge university deans, presidents, and provosts to lead their institutions toward innovative and accessible models of scholarship that utilize the speed and efficiency of new technologies. To those leaders I say, “You have the opportunity and the leverage to change the status quo. Rise above the rest and make your institution a beacon of the future!” Don’t just encourage new models and expectations of scholarly communication: insist on them. Tie them into tenure process, if necessary, but then…

To the former, we must stop thinking of scholarship in terms of how it affects tenure. Specifically, as long as publishing in a high impact journal is still considered a “better” option than publishing research in an institutional repository, open-access journal, or a personal website, then journal publishers will always have the upper hand. After all, the ultimate aim of scholarship is to advance knowledge, not to publish it (which is only the means to an end) and as at least one recent study shows (Chen, C. et al., 2009), publishing on the open web increases the chances that a work will be cited. Moreover, faculty are freely giving away their time and attention to serve as peer-reviewers, writers, and editors for journals that turn around to charge unwarranted prices for access. To those faculty I say, “Why not freely give your time and attention to publishing platforms that, in the least, make your work accessible to the widest audience possible?”

The more I think about tenure, the scholarly publishing arena, and higher education in general, the more I come to believe that we are a bloated institution. The rising cost of tuition, the exorbitant amount of spending on new facilities and star faculty, combined with the lack of public trust and disillusionment with the efficacy of “going to college” to me all point to bubble about to burst. And burst hard.


Chen, C. et al (2009). The impact of internet resources on scholarly communication: A citation analysis. Scientometrics, 81(2), 459-474.

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