When I was a first-year law student, my professor for Torts used to threaten to call us up at 3 am and demand that, before we were fully awake, we be able to recite the elements of a negligence claim – duty, breach, causation and harm (thanks, Prof. Darling). I was reminded of this demand by a small part of a recent news story, and the thought of three “elements” about open access that I would like to see every member of university promotion and tenure committees remember, even if quizzed in their sleep.
The news story, from the Chronicle of Higher Education, reports on an unusual tenure process at the College of New Jersey. The Dean and faculty panel recommended against granting tenure to Professor Nagesh Rao, but the Provost and Board of Trustee disregarded that recommendation and granted tenure, after considerable internal and external protest. My interest in the story is focused on one small comment, where Professor Rao is describing the reasons he thinks the faculty panel recommended against tenure. In addition to mentioning that his subfield may be subject to some bias, he says that one of the principal places where he is published, an open access online journal called “Postcolonial Text,” may have been “arbitrarily devalued” due to its business model.
For the record, “Postcolonial Text” is a peer-reviewed journal published on the Open Journal Systems (OJS) platform. I recently published (shameless plug alert) an article on open access for theological studies in an OJS journal, and can testify that the peer-review process — which is determined by the editors, not by the publication medium — was as rigorous as any traditional publication I have experienced. We have reached the point, I think, where the notion that online or open access is somehow not as scholarly as print, toll-access publication is no longer a reflection on open access itself, but is an indication that some academics have simply failed to pay attention to radical changes in the environment for scholarship. If what Professor Rao says is true, it is shows an embarrassing ignorance on the part of the panel that evaluated him.
So what are the “elements” of open access I want everyone who is responsible for evaluating scholarship to be able to recite, even when awakened in the dead of the night? They are as follows:
1. Online open access journals are as likely to be peer-reviewed as are traditional print publications. The medium cannot be used as a surrogate for investigation into the editorial practices and personnel of a given forum.
2. Open access based on an author fee is not a form of vanity publishing, and these arrangements, which are usually traditional journals with an open access option added on, are peer-reviewed in precisely the same way as traditional publications in the same journal. They should be weight in an evaluation process in exactly the same way.
3. Many, perhaps most, works which an author self-archives in an institutional or other repository are also published in peer-reviewed forums. P&T committees should not dismiss works just because they can be found in an open access repository, and authors should be responsible for ensuring that sufficient metadata accompanies the article to tell anyone who finds it about its peer-review and publication history.