The new policy, a recommendation made by a special ad-hoc committee started late last fall, is meant to discourage faculty from signing over all copyrights to journals and publishers that restrict its fullest distribution. Many scholarly journals require expensive subscription fees, which can limit access to scholars and non-scholars alike. Furthermore, it can be difficult to find articles written by a particular author without knowing the specific publications.
“In the interest of better disseminating the fruits of our scholarship to the world, we did not want to put it artificially behind a pay wall where much of the world won’t have access to it,” committee chair and computer science professor Andrew Appel ’81 said.
The policy passed the Faculty Advisory Committee on Policy with a unanimous vote, and the proposal was approved on Sept. 19 by the general faculty without any changes.
A major challenge for the committee, which included faculty members in both the sciences and humanities, was designing a policy that could comprehensively address the different cultures of publication found across different disciplines.
While science journals have generally adopted open-access into their business models, humanities publishers have not. In the committee, there was an initial worry that bypassing the scholarly peer-review process that journals facilitate, particularly in the humanities, could hurt the scholarly industry.
At the end, however, the committee said they felt that granting the University non-exclusive rights would not harm the publishing system and would, in fact, give the University leverage in contract negotiations.
Committee member and physics professor Christopher Tully GS ’98 said that while publishers will usually not demand exclusive rights, the University’s new policy would benefit scholars if the publishers did push. However, under the new policy, a faculty member can seek a waiver granting all rights to the publisher if the company is particularly demanding.
Nevertheless, the University’s policy is tailored toward optimal flexibility for faculty members to accommodate their wide variety of fields, according to Appel.
For example, Princeton’s faculty members can post their articles in the location of their choice. In contrast, Harvard’s policy, in place since 2008, requires faculty members to transmit a copy of their paper to a centralized online repository.
The Princeton committee did suggest, however, that a centralized repository would make retrieval more efficient. According to Appel, Provost Christopher Eisgruber ’83 and the Office of Information Technology are investigating the implementation of such a repository now.
Princeton faculty members can place online whatever version of an article they think is appropriate and compatible with the publication contract. Harvard’s model stipulates that the most recent version before copy-editing be posted.
Princeton will be the sixth Ivy League school to adopt an open-access scholarship policy, joining Harvard, Columbia, the University of Pennsylvania, Cornell and Dartmouth. Other institutions with developed open-access policies include MIT, Duke, University of California, Berkeley and the University of Michigan.
“I think it is a major step forward for the impact that the Princeton scholarly works will have in the academic community and the public in general,” Tully said. “This was something I really thought was an oversight and I’m glad we addressed it.”