Open Letter to SSHRC on Open Access / Lettre ouverte adressée au CRSH au sujet du libre accès

Dr. Chad Gaffield President, SSHRC
Via E-mail:

December 20, 2013

Dear Dr. Gaffield:

The deadline for formally participating in the Tri-Council consultation on the proposed open access policy eluded me and my departmental colleagues, so I take the liberty of writing directly to you to express some of our concerns and raise some issues that, we hope, are being taken into account as the final open access policy takes shape. While we are not opposed to open access—nobody disputes the principle that publicly-funded research should be as widely available as possible—and many of us have published in open access venues, we are concerned that a quick imposition of the requirement that all journal articles resulting from SSHRC-funded research be published in open-access venues will lead to unintended negative consequences. In no particular order (because they are all connected), our concerns include the following:

Cost: While the University of Calgary has an open access fund to assist faculty members, postdocs, and graduate students with publication fees, our provost has admitted that this is insufficient to meet the anticipated demand. Including publication costs in IG and IDG budgets, as the draft policy proposes, will help, but will leave less money for research costs, including the hiring of research assistants. In the current environment of stable or declining funding for research grants, the draft policy is likely to further reduce success rates. Given that many of our publications appear long after our grants are completed, using SSHRC funds for open access publications may not, in any case, be an option, so scholars will have to use personal or institutional funds. The ensuing uncertainty about how much scholars will have to pay to publish later articles will likely devalue SSHRC grants.

Differential Impact: We are concerned that the new policy will have very uneven impacts across the academy. Those who do not hold Tri-Council funding will not be affected. Canadianist holders of SSHRC funds who publish mostly in Canadian journals funded by SSHRC (which, we understand, SSHRC is pushing toward open access models) will be less affected than SSHRC grant holders who publish mostly outside of Canada, but many Canadianists publish in international journals in their subfields. Speaking for myself as an historian of Brazil, only two of the approximately dozen journals in the English-language world that I would consider leading publication venues currently offer a costless way of complying with the draft policy. The proposed policy is unclear about whether it applies to SSHRC-funded graduate students and postdoctoral fellows, but its principles clearly lean in that direction. If it were applied to graduate students and postdocs, it could end up severely harming the most vulnerable members of the academy. Many of them will likely spend time as sessional instructors or without formal university affiliation as they seek employment. During this time, they must publish to advance their careers, but they may not have access to institutional funds to pay for publications (and their SSHRC grants will have been used up). As a department head, I am also concerned about the impact that this policy may have in the short term on assistant professors, who need to publish in the best venues (conventional or open access) as quickly as possible in order to qualify for tenure; my concern is that an unfunded mandate to publish in open-access format might steer a tenure-track faculty member to less-appropriate journal.

Retroactive Impact:While the draft policy does not appear to contemplate including past SSHRC grants, some of us are concerned about this. Would future publications based on past SSHRC grants fall under this policy? Given that much of historians’ work is cumulative, someone like me who held doctoral and postdoctoral fellowships, as well as two SRGs, would have to say that all future publications have at  least some SSHRC-funded research in them.

As you can see, almost all of these concerns circle around the question of who will bear the cost of what looks like an unfunded mandate. We hope that many of them will be resolved as we move to a fully open-access publication regime with high standards of peer review and reasonable ways of funding journals (I understand that both the Canadian Association of Learned Journals [CALJ] and the Canadian Historical Association [CHA] have expressed concerns about the funding of open access journals). In the meantime, however, our main concern is that the transition not disrupt academic careers and individual publication strategies.

Thank you for your consideration of these concerns.

Hendrik Kraay, PhD
Professor and Head
Department of History
University of Calgary
2500 University Drive NW
Calgary, AB

cc. Ted Hewitt, Executive Vice-President
Brent Herbert-Copley, Vice-President, Research
Gisèle Yasmeen, Vice-President, Research
Dominique Marshall, President, Canadian Historical Association