A legal requirement for open access?

Last Thursday, the German state of Baden-Württemberg approved a new law on higher education. It covers quite a number of areas, from access to degree study to an Ombudsman system for doctoral research students, but it is the section on open access publishing that has attracted far the most attention.

Under the new law, universities are required to support their researchers in exercising their right to a non-commercial reproduction of their work after a period of one year. As the publishers do not accept that researchers have any such ‘right’, it is entirely unsurprising that they are bitterly critical of this provision.

Theresia Bauer, the Green Party minister who guided the law through parliament, argues that open access is desirable in principle as a way of informing public opinion. She also cites more practical grounds: the public already pay for the research, and the rising price of journal subscriptions means that even university libraries struggle to pay once more for the published findings.

Conservative opposition politicians have supported the publishers, arguing that it contravenes copyright law. Some prominent academics have even argued that the requirement to make their publicationsavailable in an institutional is an attack on academic freedom.

Mercedes-Benz-welt, Stuttgart

Mercedes-Benz-Welt, Stuttgart

You might not know much about Baden-Württemberg, but that doesn’t make it a minor backwater. It has nearly 11m inhabitants and its capital, Stuttgart, is home to some of Germany’s best-known quality car manufacturers. It could serve as a model of the successful, dynamic city-region, with a high density of researchers among its population. The state also houses a thriving wine industry and the beer is pretty good too (I once enjoyed a pint – yes, a pint – in a bar that claimed to have been Hegel’s regular when he was a student).

If Baden-Württemberg chose to declare independence from the rest of the federal republic, it would be one of Europe’s most prosperous and attractive countries. So I am starting to wonder what would happen if the Scottish Government adopted a similar principle, and insisted that all academics in publicly funded universities in Scotland should similarly make their work available online.

If Holyrood were to reach such a decision, they would find themselves in open conflict with the UK Government, which has opted for the far more publisher-friendly model of ‘gold open access’. Picking fights with Westminster is what Alex Salmond likes best, so long as he is on a winning wicket. In this case, I am pretty sure that he would find widespread support for ‘green open access’, both in the research community and among the wider public who pay for our research.



Wow, I could be a Super Professor!

An email tells me that “Your name has been submitted for Super Professors, which is part of Faculty Row’s global academic network”. The signatory is Jeffrey Finder, who describes himself as the ‘Academic Director’of an organisation called Faculty Row Corporation, with head offices in Madison Avenue, New York.

Image from Wikimedia Commons

Image from Wikimedia Commons

I can’t pretend to have been thrilled. A colleague had received a similar invitation, with identical wording. And all academics receive a steady flow of emails making fabulous offers. Faculty Row, with its offer of ‘official super professor’ status, hope to appeal to our vanity and our awareness of the value of networking. So what services does it offer?

According to their website,

Faculty Row is a Private Network originally developed for educators and researchers to connect, collaborate, and share ideas nationally. Faculty Row is now the leading network of experts for over 100,000 academics globally.

The main services it provides are a news update, apparently culled from the web; press releases promoting new publications and other activities; an online networking facility; and access to information on new career opportunities from what it describes as its ‘partner’, the open website Jobs.ac.uk.

Most of its current members appear to be based in the USA, but I found one who describes himself as a ‘Lecturer’ in the philosophy department at St Mary Immaculate College, part of the University of Limerick. I could not find his name on the department’s website, so presumably he is not a full time academic. Another turned out to be adjunct professor at Hamline University, in Minnesota, a third an associate professor in New Mexico.

In exchange for these services, you pay a fee. The rates vary depending on circumstances, but a one year subscription for US Faculty will cost you $199, while academics outside the USA can pay £399 for a three-year membership.

So what do you think? Value for money, or candy for suckers? And perhaps more seriously, which social media site is most productive for scholars?

A decidedly odd thing we do in academic publishing

I’ve been reading a book called Space, Place and Inclusive Learning. The title is slightly misleading, as most of the chapters are about initial education in schools and universities, but the book is an interesting illustration of how concepts of space and place are helping to inform educational research.

It is a sign of our digital times that the ten chapters originally appeared as a special double issue of a journal. Nothing wrong with that: one consequence of digitisation is that you can produce the same material in different formats for little extra cost, and presumably the publisher is hoping to sell a few more copies of the journal by repackaging it as a ‘book’, while editors and authors get to add an extra output to their CVs.

But here’s the thing. Right at the start of the ‘book’ are two pages asking readers who cite the chapters to ‘use the original page numbering for each article’, along with the standard referencing for the original journal. My guess is that this is about bibliometrics: it may be convenient for your career to get two separate publications from the same paper, but it is decidedly inconvenient if the result is to split the citations between them and thus reduce the impact ranking of your work.

I suspect that most readers who cite the material will please themselves as to how they reference the chapters. But in a digital world of academic publishing, it is ironic that anyone should try to control how other academics cite their work. In the case of this ‘book’, it is doubly ironic in that its central theme is to do with space and place – and triply ironic in that there isn’t a chapter on the digital spaces of online learning.

Anarchists and work camps in 1930s Britain


Red Clydeside collection: http://gdl.cdlr.strath.ac.uk/redclyde/

This leaflet comes from the Glasgow Digital Library, a fabulous mine of information and collection of resources for teaching. It must date to around 1933-34, when the Left was campaigning vigorously against what became the 1934 Unemployment Act. The National Government introduced the Act in order to restructure poor relief and bring unemployment benefits under central control. It also contained a clause which combined the old poor law requirement of the ‘work test’ with existing powers to compel claimants to undertake training.

The campaign against the Bill was enormous, and the historian Neil Evans describes it as the most-discussed piece of legislation in inter-war Britain. Most of the agitation was led by the Labour Left (including the Independent Labour Party) and the Communist Party. But others were involved as well.

This flyer was published by a group calling itself the Workers’ Open Forum, a Glasgow-based network launched by the veteran anarchist Guy Aldred. I don’t know much about the Forum, except that it renamed itself as the United Socialist Movement. Aldred, on the other hand, was and is quite well-known. He viewed himself as a Communist-Anarchist, had been imprisoned for anti-imperialist activities in 1907, and was a conscientious objector in the First World War.  A Londoner by birth and upbringing, he had moved to Glasgow where he thought the prospects for building a new movement were strong.

Several work camps recruited men from Glasgow. In 1933-34, Carstairs Instructional Centre was being prepared for closure, and the Ministry of Labour was opening a new camp out on the Cowal peninsula, at Glenbranter. Both camps experienced a number of protests by angry trainees, and both were visited by Harry McShane, one of the NUWM’s Scottish organisers.

By comparison with the Communist Party, and the National Unemployed Workers’ Movement that the CP dominated, Aldred’s group was tiny. Judging by this flyer, the anarchists shared the Communists’ concern with the threat that work camps posed to the integrity of family life; but they placed a much stronger emphasis than the Communists on what they saw as the militaristic role of the British work camps. Interestingly, the Ministry of Labour’s officials were worried about this issue, and always kept the armed forces at arm’s length, to the point of refusing them to publicise recruitment materials within the camps.

Another daft thing they do in universities

A friend recently showed me a payment slip from a university where she had given a guest lecture back in November. The university had duly paid her fee and expenses, after the usual delays. Again as normal, it had deducted tax from her fee. All in all, a standard procedure.

At the bottom of the slip, the university had added a short message. The message was not, of course, to thank her for spending time writing the lecture, travelling to the university, and engaging with her audience. This is what it said:
Pay has been withheld in respect of the strike action on the following days:
31st October 2013 (full day)
23rd January 2014 (two hours)
28th January (full day)

To repeat, this was for a lecture in November.