Talking about a policy

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Academic freedom

  • Some faculty object that an OA policy would infringe their academic freedom.
    • If they object that it will limit their freedom to submit new work to the journals of their choice, then they are mistaking a green policy (as recommended here) for a gold policy. They are mistaking deposit in OA repositories for submission to OA journals. Help faculty understand the difference between the two approaches, and that the policy recommended here is limited to repository deposits and does not extend to journal submissions.
    • If they object that some journals will not allow OA on the university's terms, and that faculty will effectively be barred from publishing in those journals, then they are forgetting about the waiver option. Faculty may submit their work to such a journal. If their work is accepted, they may publish in that journal simply by obtaining a waiver, which the university will always grant, no questions asked. In fact, the primary rationale for the waiver option is to preserve faculty freedom to submit new work to the journals of their choice. Be explicit in reassuring faculty that they remain free to publish anywhere and remain free to decide for or against OA for each of their publications.
      • If they object from the other direction that the waiver rate will be high, and make the policy toothless, see our entry on the waiver option where we show that it is low (<5%) at every university where the waiver rate is known.
    • If they object that the policy will diminish their rights or control over their work, then they don't understand the terms of standard publishing contracts, the rights-retention aspect of the OA policy recommended here, the feature of the policy allowing the university to transfer rights back to the author, or some combination of these. Authors sign away most of their rights under standard publishing contracts. In fact, increasing author rights and control is the primary rationale of a rights-retention OA policy. Be explicit in reassuring faculty that they will have far more rights and control over their work under this policy than under a standard (or even progressive) publishing contract.
    • If they object that the policy will give the university ownership of their work, then they don't understand nonexclusive rights, the terms of standard publishing contracts, or both. The policy grants no exclusive rights to the institution, only nonexclusive rights. By contrast, faculty routinely grant exclusive rights to publishers through standard publishing agreements.
    • If they object that they will be subject to a new form of coercion, then they are overlooking the waiver option, misinterpreting the word "mandate", or both. If some people call the policy a "mandate", it's only because the policy is stronger than a request or encouragement. But it's not a mandate in any other sense, and doesn't call itself a mandate. The waiver option means that faculty retain the freedom to decide for or against OA for every one of their publications. Where the word "mandate" may be a problem, don't use the word, and where the word is already causing problems, help faculty focus on the substance or actual provisions of the policy rather than the implications of a very imperfect label for the policy. (More under "Mandate" below.)
    • These objections are especially common on campuses where faculty distrust of administrators runs high. Sometimes faculty do understand the repository/journal (green/gold) distinction, the nonexclusive/exclusive rights distinction, the waiver option, rights-retention, and the terms of standard publishing contracts. But when they distrust administrators, they often see a draft OA policy as an attempted power grab by the administration. When this is a risk, be especially clear on the points above (the repository/journal distinction, the nonexclusive/exclusive rights distinction, the waiver option, rights-retention, and the terms of standard contracts). But also be clear that the policy is a faculty initiative. Faculty will draft the language and vote on the outcome. Be clear that it enhances author prerogatives (control over their work and distribution channels for their work), while preserving their freedom to decide for or against OA and preserving their freedom to submit their work to the journals of their choice. These are the reasons why so many OA policies have been approved by unanimous faculty votes.
    • At schools where faculty worry that administrators might claim control over faculty publications under the work-for-hire doctrine, it helps to point out that the kind of policy recommended here reaffirms that these rights belong to faculty. Through the vote on the policy, faculty grant (nonexclusive) rights to the institution. This act presupposes that it is the faculty's prerogative to grant or withhold these rights.


  • You'll find that people ask about the "compliance rate" with these policies. For example, is it high or low? Can you quantify it? Here's some language to avoid oversimplifying the problem.
  • Policies of the type recommended here have two components: (1) the license, secured through the adoption of the policy, and (2) the repository deposits, secured through a variety of means, mostly improvised, and rarely specified in the policy.
    1. License: Compliance reaches 100% as soon as the policy is adopted. Everyone intended to have the license has the license from the moment of the vote. It's automatic. That's what the vote does.
      • First the policy secures the license for all covered authors from the moment of adoption. Then authors may waive the license, if they wish. Waivers reduce the number of covered authors who keep or use the license, not the number of authors for whom the policy secured the license. (If it matters here, waiver rates under these policies tend to be low.
      • Campus leaders should make clear that faculty who obtain waivers are still complying with the policy. They are not violating the letter or spirit of the policy. The policy deliberately accommodates those who need or want waivers.
    2. Deposits: A rights-retention policy makes OA sharing easier once the repository has the file. The reason is that the institution already has the rights it needs to provide OA. But a rights-retention policy doesn't make it easier or harder for the repository to get the files in the first place.
      • Most green OA policies face two problems: get the files + get permissions. Rights-retention green OA policies face just one: get the files.
      • Note that in the kind of policy recommended here, the license is waivable and the deposit expectation is not.
      • What makes this kind of policy distinctive is the license or rights-retention. It has no special provisions or magic on how to gather the files or stimulate deposits.
      • At Harvard, we say that we obtain the files through expectations, education, outreach, assistance, incentives, persuasion, ingenuity, diplomacy, and (when possible) automation. The exact methods differ from institution to institution, but the methods we use at Harvard are based on what we think will work, and what we're staffed for, not on the wording of the policy. We learn from others and welcome suggestions.
      • In short, if people asking about the "compliance rate" really mean the "deposit rate", then the answer is that the deposit rate does not seem to be a function of the rights-retention aspect of the policy. More precisely, we haven't observed that rights-retention policies, as such, raise or lower the willingness of authors to deposit in the repository, and we haven't seen any studies of the question.
      • To compute the annual deposit rate, divide the number of policy-covered articles deposited per year (the numerator) by the number of policy-covered articles published per year (the denominator). All schools with policies and repositories should be able to ascertain their numerator. But unfortunately, many cannot ascertain their denominator. Hence, many schools cannot determine their deposit rate.
  • The same considerations apply when people ask about "effectiveness" rather than "compliance". This kind of policy is 100% effective in securing the license for all covered authors, even if some authors later waive it for some articles. As far as we know, this kind of policy is no more or less effective than other policies in securing deposits.

"Institutional repository"

  • University OA policies generally require deposit in the institutional repository, and we recommend that practice. In this sense, an institutional repository tries to gather the research output of an institution. By contrast, a central, subject, or disciplinary repository tries to gather the research output of a field. When we're discussing different kinds of repository, the term "institutional repository" is unambiguous and unfrightening. It also tends to emphasize the fact that the repository is hosted by a nonprofit institution and therefore not subject to corporate capture or enclosure.
  • However, many faculty do not realize that institutional repositories are indexed by major (academic and non-academic) search engines, and interoperable with other repositories. Many faculty think that an institutional repository is a walled garden or a silo of content only visible to people who know that the repository exists and who make a special visit and run a special search. In addition, most faculty identify more with their field than their institution. Hence, when discussing a university OA policy, the term "institutional repository" may reinforce false assumptions that deposited works are institution-bound, invisible, and provincially identified with an institution more than with the author, topic, or field. In discussing university OA policies, then, it may be better to emphasize the sense which institutional repositories are OA, open for indexing by any search engine, and interoperable with other repositories. They do not wall off content into institutional silos but openly distribute content using institutional resources. They are designed to expose content to searchers, and many more readers will find the repository articles through global, cross-repository searches (for example through Google Scholar) than through local searches or local browsing. For all these reasons, many faculty will find "open-access repository" and "repository" more illuminating, more welcoming, and less confusing than "institutional repository".


  • Realize that to many faculty, the word "mandate" suggests commands or coercion incompatible with academic freedom. That's a good reason to avoid the term. The kind of policy recommended here is not implemented through commands or coercion. First, it is self-imposed by faculty vote. Second, it contains a waiver option and merely shifts the default. It would be a mistake to let the understandable desire to avoid the ugly implications of the word "mandate" lead faculty to defeat a policy that was not a mandate in the ugly sense. The kind of policy recommended here preserves faculty freedom to choose for or against OA for every one of their publications.
    • On the other hand, the policy recommended here is considerably stronger than a mere request or encouragement. The chief rationale for the word "mandate" is that English doesn't seem to give us better options for a policy that goes well beyond requests and encouragement and yet stops short of commands and coercion. (If you have a better alternative, please come forward!)
    • For more detail, see Peter Suber, Open Access, MIT Press, 2012, Section 4.2, Digression on the word 'Mandate', pp. 86-90.
  • In any case, the deposit expectation or deposit commitment is only one part of the policy. Don't talk about the policy as if deposit in the repository were the only part or the main part. It's one of two equally important parts. The key second part is rights retention by the institution and author. As we explain in the entry on transferring rights back to the author, the kind of policy recommended here increases faculty freedom to use and reuse their own work.

"Opt-out" and "opt-in"

  • We recommend an "opt-out" policy (with the waiver as the opt-out). This kind of policy "shifts the default" from lack of permission for OA to permission for OA. After a rights-retention policy is adopted, faculty who don't lift a finger are granting the institution permission to make their future work OA. If they want a different outcome, they must lift a finger and change the default (by obtaining a waiver). Faculty who object to opt-out OA policies sometimes believe that the default will be difficult to shift, or that their request to shift it might be denied. But this depends on the policy. We recommend that the policy make clear that the institution "will" grant opt-outs or waivers, whenever a faculty member asks it to do so, not merely that it "may" grant waivers.
  • Some institutions adopt what they call "opt-in" policies. But in effect they already had opt-in policies. Faculty already had the right to opt in to green OA, or to retain rights (if they could swing it) and deposit their work in an OA repository. If the university didn't have an institutional repository, then faculty could deposit in a disciplinary repository. Hence the proper opposite of an "opt-out" policy is either a non-policy (which is weaker) or a no-waiver policy (which is stronger).
  • In an earlier section, we recommended against "opt-in" policies on the ground that they are equivalent to non-policies, and seem to change the status quo when they do not.


  • The university should make works in the repository OA whenever it has legally sufficient permission to do so. The kind of rights-retention policy we recommend here is one source of permission. When a faculty member obtains a waiver for a given article, then the university does not have permission from the policy to make that article OA. But the university might have permission from another source, such as the publisher. A waiver of the license in the university policy doesn't waive the license the university may have from the publisher. Hence, when talking about waivers, don't say or imply that waivers flatly block OA permission for a given work. They only block OA permission from the policy, not from other sources. We recommend that policy proponents be explicit that the institution will make deposited work OA whenever it has permission to do so.
    • Some faculty will overlook or misinterpret the waiver option and object that the policy limits their options and infringes their academic freedom. (We respond to this objection in the entry on academic freedom above.)
    • Some faculty who are strong proponents of OA will raise the opposite objection, and argue that the waiver option guts the policy and should be deleted. They believe the waiver rate will be high — for example, 40%, 60%, or 80% — when the experience at every school with a waiver option is that the waiver rate is low. At Harvard, MIT, and the University of California, it's below 5%. Moreover, removing the waiver option will make it impossible to answer objections based on academic freedom. Because a policy with an unwaivable license might infringe academic freedom, it could also fail to muster the votes needed to pass. Don't make the perfect an enemy of the good, and don't underestimate the ways in which shifting the default can change behavior on a large scale.
  • If you accept our recommendation that waivers should apply only to the grant of rights to the institution (a.k.a "the license"), and not to deposit in the repository, then it's better to speak about "waiving the license" than "waiving the policy".

Also see

Also see the recommendations on separating the issues and educating faculty before the vote.

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