What faculty think

It is always dangerous to try and speculate about the opinions and attitudes of a large group, especially one af diverse as university faculty. But the University of California’s Office of Scholarly Communications always produces great research, and their recent report on “Faculty Attitudes and Behaviors Regarding Scholarly Communication” is no exception. The full report can be downloaded here, and a PDF of the Executive Summary and Summary of Findings is here. This is solid, empirical research that can help guide attempts to reform and renew the system of disseminating scholarly research.

One of the most interesting findings in this report is the disconnect it documents between attitudes and behaviors around open access and, especially, copyright. Faculty members report a high level of concern about these issues, but very little change in behavior as a result of that concern. Most respondents, regardless of their worries or desire for change, continue to pursue co0nventional scholarly behaviors around research publication. These behaviors are deeply ingrained in the fabric of scholarship, so this finding isn’t very surprising. But it does suggest that offering help to faculty around copyright management, as well as simple and convenient ways to deposit their work in open access repositories, is very important. When we are asking a group to change long-followed practices, we ought to make the case compelling and the changes as painless as possible.

One thing that may help with this change is the growth of informal means of scholarly communication. As blogs, wikis, and even e-mail become an increasingly ubiquitous part of the scholarly process, traditional channels of scholarship will seem less inevitable than they have before. The UC report notes that the traditional system of tenure and promotion, with its narrow view of what constitutes acceptable scholarship, is one major reason for strict allegiance to the traditional system; the proliferation of informal channels of communication, rather than “external” pressure, seems the most likely way to open up that view of scholarship. It is to be hoped that the value for a more open and informal way of evaluating and improving scholarship will make traditional channels, as valuable as they are, no longer the only option for perceiving quality work.

Another interesting finding of the report is that “senior faculty may be the most fertile targets for innovation in scholarly communications.” For many this seems counter-intuitive, although the report on legal scholarship discussed in our last post indicated the same possibility. While younger faculty may be more comfortable with technology (although that is by no means certain), it is senior faculty, the UC report suggests, who can afford to experiment, since tenure makes experimentation much lower risk. Is it possible that another explanation of this finding is that senior faculty, with their years of experience in traditional scholarly publishing, have reached a level of frustration that makes them embrace new alternatives more quickly?

One thought on “What faculty think”

  1. From my discussions with faculty, I get the sense that it’s some of both. Junior faculty tend to feel vulnerable in negotiations with publishers because publication is so crucial to getting tenure, and so they are more willing to accept whatever terms the publishers offer. Senior faculty are more likely to negotiate for better terms, because less is at stake.

    At the same time, I’ve learned that many faculty authors do not think about copyright at all until they have some kind of problem – a book goes out of print and the author can’t get the rights back, or a journal wants to charge an author to include her own article in an anthology. The longer a person is writing and publishing, the more likely she is to come up against some terrible publisher policy somewhere along the way, and therefore the more likely she will be to seek out and embrace new alternatives.

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