10 (Mostly) Simple Steps.

Last month I had the privilege of speaking to the annual Computers in Writing Conference. The organizers were interested in hearing my perspective on open scholarship and the university.

I am not going to recast my entire presentation here, I actually might write it up as an article for something else, but the keynote is a different genre from a blog post and different from a formal essay so just making the written version of my talk available is probably not so useful.

But to briefly summarize I made the claim that increasingly academic interests are running counter to that of the publishing industry. And that while I find recent calls to move towards open scholarship such as the Harvard Letter important, I think that economic justification is not the primary reason we ought to pursue open scholarship. In short I think this is a moral issue. Knowledge Cartels are increasingly controlling, and restricting knowledge production and dissemination. This is happening broadly across our culture but the universities complicity in this, from drug patents to for profit publishing is troubling.

I am not going to rehash the long argument here, if you want you can watch the video. Instead, building on the idea that this is the moment to move to open access, I want to highlight the how-to portion of my talk, the ten steps to breaking up the knowledge cartels.

To me it is simple, we have a bizarre situation where we give away our product for free to these cartels who then turn around and sell it back to us. We give away our knowledge for free the only question is do we want to give it away to the public or to the cartels. Overcoming the knowledge cartels in the academy is simply a collective action problem. That is all we have to do is act together. Acting alone has costs, but if we collectively resist the cartels we solve the problem. To be sure there are complex solutions needed to replace the cartels, but the first step is overcoming them—which is shockingly simple. I offer 10 steps to take to achieve this goal.

1. Creative Commons License Everything. I said at the talk, and I would re-iterate here, this is the most important step, in fact this one simple act of licensing everything we do under creative commons would go a long way to undermining the cartels that profit from controlling our knowledge. Creative Commons essentially bequeaths your work to the commons, insuring that it cannot be locked down. There is a degree of control here where the originator of the work can decide whether or not someone can re-use for commercial purposes or non-commericial purposes only, or whether to allow remixes, or only those who maintain the entiritery of the original. But importantly it insures that the knowledge will enter the commons. We should license everything we do—syllabi, talks, books, journal articles—under creative commons.

2. Publish only via Open Access Sources. This is pretty simple we already give our work away for free, the question is to whom should we give it away. Giving it away to the public produces a better knowledge commons, as serves the public not the corporations. Knowledge which isn’t public, isn’t knowledge.

3. Refuse to Work for the Gated Publishers. In addition to our writing labor which we are giving away for free, academics are providing other labor to these publishers, for free. Stop it. Stop serving on the boards for these journals, stop peer reviewing them. No more sharing with them our free labor. If you get an email asking you to serve one of these rolls, your first response should be, “under what license will this publication be made available.” If the answer does not entail some method of open access turn them down and tell them why you are doing it. Recently I received two emails, one requesting that I review an article for a journal and another asking that I serve as a reader for a book. My first question in both cases was, is this open access. In the case of the article the journal issue was, I happily agreed. The book however was not. I turned them down, and made it very clear to them why I was doing it.

4.Actively Support Open Access. The corollary to the prior point is to actively seek out and work for Open Access distribution models. One of the myths about open access is that the work is not peer reviewed, that the quality is less. Of course this is absurd nothing about an open model indicates diminished quality, or suggests that an article cannot be peer reviewed. Indeed there are many models out there (I’ll just recommend Kathleen Fitzpatrick’s book for an in depth discussion of this). So at this crucial moment, when these initiatives are developing they can use the support of faculty, both to lend them intellectual gravitas and simply as a show of support. Serve as editors, readers, peer reviewers, board members.

5. Do this regardless of rank. I think this is the point which during my keynote received some of the strongest push back. I used to think that the best path was to call on full and associate professors to lead the way, moving to open access being too great a risk for the contigent labor, the grad students, and junior faculty. But a few things changed my mind on this. First since this is a collective action problem the greater the numbers the greater the shift, and a sudden move by untenured faculty would signal a subtantial shift. Second the urgency of pressing our case means that waiting for a slow change isn’t really the best option. And finally, I am not sure we can count on the tenured faculty. Faculty who don’t do something before tenure aren’t likely to change after. I am up for tenure this year, we will see how this goes, but as a colleague of mine Jon Becker says this is “a hill worth dying on.”

6. Make Open Access Part of A Criteria in Institutional Decisions. If you are on a hiring committee, ask the candidate if they are published in any open access sources. If they are not ask them why not, hire people who are committed to open access, make this part of your hiring criteria. Same for tenure committees and tenure review. For those with this kind of influence get open access mentioned in tenure guidelines, and again reward it during tenure and promotion evaluations. By doing so you will make it easier for junior colleagues to take the risks I outlined above.

7. Make these Choice Public. Part of the way that we overcome the collective action problem here is to publicly commit to Open Access, to not only make the moral choice, but to testify to this choice, making it easier for others to do the same. Sign Petitions such as “the cost of knowledge,” or the WhiteHouse.gov petition demanding open access to taxpayer funded research. Write in whatever venue available to you that you are making the move to open access, explain why, encourage others to join. When a knowledge cartel asks you to work for them, as an editor a reviewer or article writer, explain to them why you won’t do it, and then make that refusal public. So when Routledge asks you to review a book (as they recently did with me) tell them no, and then tell everyone that you told them no. This has the double advantage of communicating to the original author that if they want their submission reviewed they should agree to open access up front.

8. Extend this Principle to All Institutional Choices. I realize much of the focus about open access centers around our scholarship, but syllabi, lesson plans, teaching techniques are equally as valuable to the commons. There is no reason things like textbooks need to be expensive. These should be free and open, available to all. The textbook market is perhaps one of the biggest rackets in the academic publishing industry. And for the love of all that is holy stop using proprietary software and other systems in our classrooms that encourage these Knowledge Cartels. Even if this software were well built (which it isn’t) pedagogically and ethically using them is wrong. Ideologically systems like BlackBoard are just another piece of this problem. Go open source with our learning tools, stop letting these knowledge cartels profit from education.

9. Exert pressure on professional institutions. MLA, ASA, CCCC whatever professional organizations you are part of, whatever conferences you are part of, make them aware of your demand for open access, and get them to tak in that direction. Because pressuring these institutions works.

10. Pirate. Stop respecting the rights of the knowledge cartels. The knowledge they have locked down is ours, not theirs, do not recognize their right to it. If someone wants something that is locked down behind a paywall, share it with them, copy, distribute, don’t respect the copyright of these cartels.

Again this is simply a collective action problem, all it takes is for us as academics to stand up and say enough. Indeed any other choice not only harms our collective interest, but more importantly the interests of public which we serve. Open Access is the only ethical choice.