Thursday, December 20, 2018

Open vs. Closed - Part 2

Opinion piece from a UCLA faculty member on the Elsevier matter:

The Trouble With Institution-Led Boycotts

By John Villasenor, Chronicle of Higher Ed, 12-19-18

John Villasenor is a professor of engineering, public policy, and management and a visiting professor of law at the University of California at Los Angeles. He is also a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

When, if ever, should colleges advocate boycotts? The question is particularly relevant in light of last week’s memorandum, signed by a top University of California at Los Angeles executive, urging the faculty to engage in what amounts to a boycott of an academic publisher, Elsevier. The precedent will most likely lead to a host of unintended consequences.

Elsevier is home to about 2,500 journals that in 2017 published more than 430,000 articles. The University of California system is paying more than $10 million to Elsevier in 2018, and with the current multiyear contract set to expire at the end of December, the system and Elsevier have been in high-stakes negotiations over a new contract.

Last week’s memorandum was addressed to all UCLA faculty members and was signed by UCLA’s executive vice chancellor and provost as well as by the chair of the Academic Senate and by the university librarian.

Titled "Important Notice Regarding Elsevier Journals," it urged UCLA faculty members to consider "declining to review articles for Elsevier journals until negotiations are clearly moving in a productive direction," "looking at other journal-publishing options, including prestigious open-access journals in your discipline," and "contacting the publisher, if you’re on the editorial board of an Elsevier journal, and letting them know that you share the negotiators’ concerns."

While some have characterized the call for a boycott as faculty-led, the signature of the executive vice chancellor and provost provides a clear institutional imprimatur. And now that UCLA has opened the door to institution-advocated boycotts, where might it lead?

Consider the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel. BDS, which I personally do not support, has gained significant momentum on college campuses in recent years. If BDS advocates at UCLA pressure the administration to support the movement, the response can no longer be that "UCLA doesn’t take institutional positions on boycotts." Rather, UCLA will now have to come up with a framework to decide which types of boycotts the institution can endorse.

How might the UCLA administration approach that challenge? There’s no good answer... It’s a conflict of interest when college administrators ask faculty members to take actions that reduce their publication options. To be promoted, professors are told they should publish in top journals. Yet now UCLA professors in fields whose top journals are published by Elsevier face an unenviable choice that places their publication interests in tension with the administration’s boycott recommendation...

Now that UCLA is in the business of institution-advocated boycotts, I hope that the administration has a plan for handling the inevitable calls for boycotts that will start landing on its doorstep in the future.

Full column at

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