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And the likelihood that 100% of colleges and universities will agree to forego a very real competitive advantage in the name of changing the scholarly communication system strikes me as very, very low.
The OAH appears to accept—indeed, to take it as given—that doctoral dissertations will eventually be shared publicly. consult with each other about the advantages and disadvantages of embargoing a dissertation, leaving the final decision entirely to the individual student.” There are two issues here, one of them relatively superficial and the other more fundamental and significant.
What it urges in this statement, much as the AHA did in its own, is that “advisers and students. The superficial one is the unwillingness of many commentators to accept or even acknowledge the existence of both “advantages and disadvantages” when it comes to dissertation embargoes.
Some campuses, however, are moving in the direction of asserting ownership over their faculty’s work.
Often, this move takes the form of the institution asserting copyright over the faculty’s work, then automatically assigning it back to the faculty member.
The mischaracterizations then go viral, leading to a low-grade moral panic.
This is what happened in the wake of just such a declaration made this past summer by the American Historical Association (AHA); I discussed that statement and the responses to it in an earlier TSK posting.
A dissertation, therefore, is not the same thing as a book written by an amateur or unaffiliated professional at home.
It is, in some meaningful ways, a product of the institution. A college or university that wishes to assert control over the theses and dissertations produced on its campus can probably do so with some justification.
But the question of whether such a move could be logically, morally, and legally justified is very different from the more pressing and relevant question, which is whether such a move would be wise. The most obvious reason, I think, is that any college or university that does assert real control over its faculty and students’ intellectual work is going to put itself at a competitive disadvantage with those institutions that allow their students and faculty to keep control over their work.
Institutions looking to attract top faculty and students will find a liberal intellectual-property policy to be a very low-cost way of increasing their advantage—certainly cheaper than hiring a trailing spouse, building a lab, or boosting a salary offer. “Sure, giving faculty the right to publish wherever they want and giving students the right to embargo their dissertations may be cheap in the short run, but it’s expensive in the long run because it perpetuates the current, unsustainably expensive scholarly communication system.” That may be true.