On March 18, 2009, MIT faculty unanimously approved a university-wide open access policy, the first of its kind in the country. The policy gave faculty rights to share their scholarly papers openly with the world—rights that until then were largely in the hands of journal publishers.
It was a monumental shift: Authors now legally held onto copyright in their work even if they later signed that copyright over to a publisher.* It meant they could post articles online, reuse them in talks, pluck out figures or images to incorporate into new works, and allow others to do the same and more, as long as the uses were non-commercial.
“In the quest for higher profits, publishers have lost sight of the values of the academy. Through this action, MIT faculty have shown great leadership in the promotion of free and open scholarly communication,” said Ann Wolpert, then director of the MIT Libraries, in 2009. Wolpert had worked for months with Hal Abelson, Class of 1922 Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, and others to move the resolution forward.
OA Policies and Practices Today
On the 10-year anniversary of the faculty vote, open access policies have proliferated: More than five dozen institutions in North America now have similar ones. MIT’s, too, has expanded: In 2017, MIT adopted an “opt-in” version of the policy that anyone on campus—postdoc, graduate student, undergrad, researcher, staff member—can sign to hold onto their rights.
There is also now a growing movement of scholars and academic institutions working to regain control of the products of their research in other ways—by, for example, flipping commercially owned, closed journals to open access ones run by researchers or non-profit publishers; exploring “next-generation repositories” that include peer review and other services and are managed by the scholarly community; and developing open-access friendly principles to use during negotiations with scholarly publishers and vendors.
Next Steps for MIT
In an effort to remain a leader in the open access movement, in 2017 MIT Provost Martin Schmidt convened an Ad Hoc Task Force on Open Access to MIT’s Research, which has over the last 18 months explored ways to update and revise MIT’s OA policies.
Today, 10 years after MIT faculty asserted their commitment to widely disseminating their work, the task force released a set of draft recommendations. They include ratifying an Institute-wide set of principles for open science; adopting an OA policy for monographs; and asking department heads to develop discipline-specific plans to encourage and support open sharing from their faculty, students, and staff.
The recommendations are open for public comment until April 17. Ideas can be submitted via the task force idea bank, on the open publishing platform PubPub, via email to the task force, or at an upcoming community forum on April 10, 3–4:30 p.m., in 56-114.
*That is, unless the publisher required a waiver, which several do. Authors can request a waiver on a paper-by-paper basis.