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Martin Paul Eve

Professor of Literature, Technology and Publishing at Birkbeck, University of London

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Since yesterday's HEFCE announcement, I've seen some comments floating around that resurrect the argument that OA mandates are a blow to academic freedom. I do not agree, and especially so when we're talking about the HEFCE mandate. With HEFCE's current policy, 96% of submissions to the last REF would have simply required authors to deposit to comply; no change of publisher policy was necessary. The remaining 4%, if truly published in the best venue, could have sought an exception.

It seems to me that this argument requires a very specific reading of the history of academic freedom, one with which I do not agree. Take, for example, the 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure which notes that “Teachers are entitled to full freedom in research and in the publication of the results” (American Association of University Professors 1940). In one reading, of course, this could be seen as endorsing the free choice of where to publish one's research. In another take, though, one that situates academic freedom within a history of censorship, this statement instead refers to the ability to publish the work without fear of institutional or government reprisal, but not to choose where to publish it. The freedom to publish the results. Given that academics already play so many games to satisfy their institutions and funders with regard to publishing in supposedly desirable venues, if one reads this in the former light, “freedom” is surely already compromised through willing submission. If one reads it in the mode of the latter, then the complaint is that a mechanism designed to avoid academics being prohibited from disseminating their research is compromised by asking academics to ensure the broadest dissemination of their material.

I do not find such arguments particularly compelling and, in the current case, given that most venues have green OA policies, all that is being asked of academics is to put your work on a repository for the world to read. Most publishers will allow you to do this. You will not have to pay to publish. You can publish where you want to and simply use these policies. Given these features, I really struggle to understand how that is an aspect of contemporary practice that is truly worth resisting.