2021 Highlight: The Missed Moment to Elevate Open Access as DEIA Imperative

Ed. Note: As the end of 2021 approaches, we want to reflect on TIE’s most notable pieces from the past year. From now through the end of December we will be reposting some of our most widely read and talked about content. The following was one of our most popular reads.

people peruse open access (OA) content against a gray background, demonstrating its importance to DEIA

University of California’s agreement with Elsevier sparked a spate of reactions when it was announced publicly on March 16. Some higher education leaders generally lauded UC’s ability to close the deal on what was at one time a seemingly contentious relationship. Others raised concerns about some alarming elements within the agreement, including APCs (article processing charges), fees that academics (or some entity like the institution’s library) pay to publish their scholarly works.  

The questions raised in this recent Scholarly Kitchen article are critical to understanding everything that is at stake. Megadeals such as the UC-Elsevier agreement require big thinking, and this deal is exceptionally complex. Yet, we at TIE wonder why DEIA principles were not raised in a more pronounced way by the Open Access (OA) community when the UC-Elsevier deal was announced. 

Not elevating this deal as a potential blow to DEIA efforts is a striking development given the scope of the agreement’s impact, initiatives from many OA organizations, and heightened intentionality regarding DEIA sweeping the globe. It is head-scratching that the OA community has not made more affirmative statements about the connection between OA and DEIA, given that the “A” in DEIA stands for accessibility and the “E” for equity. 

Without question, many colleagues are doing critical work to increase compositional diversity and elevate diverse voices in the OA community. The founding of the Coalition for Diversity and Inclusion in Scholarly Communications (C4DISC), OASPA’s focus on diversity topics at its 2020 conference, and the OpenCon Diversity and Inclusion initiative put together by SPARC and the Right to Research Coalition (R2RC) are admirable and ascendant.

However, the digital dialogues on social media largely failed to highlight how pay-to-publish models potentially set into motion exclusionary practices. These practices may harm the academy’s already small number of diverse (BIPOC) faculty, researchers, librarians, archivists, and museum professionals. BIPOC scholars are more likely to be represented in disciplines to which significant research dollars are not attached (the same may be true for those who teach and work at smaller institutions without grants offices, so-called special mission institutions like HBCUs, Hispanic-serving institutions, tribal institutions, community colleges, and graduate professional studies schools). 

Another lone voice in the digital discourse “wilderness” regarding the potential impact of the UC-Elsevier agreement are those colleagues representing the Global South (a debated term meant to supplant pejorative usage of the terms “developing nations” or “Third World” to describe newly industrialized nations that have been economically and socially impacted by histories of colonialism).

To our knowledge, only one R1 North American institution issued a statement that mentioned the inherent inequities built into the pay-to-publish model. The promise of a unified DEIA strategy within the OA movement has yet to come to fruition, and it is time for us to get busy. While some higher education leaders have expressed exhaustion from statement fatigue, the potential of global inequity in publishing and accessing scholarly materials driven by a single vendor’s pricing model seems like the type of circumstance that warrants an OA organizational Voltron

If your organization is currently modeling OA as a DEIA imperative, feel free to reach out to us. We would love to hear from you. 

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Interested in contributing to TIE? Send an email to Deb V. at Choice dvillavicencio@ala-choice.org with your topic idea.

Header image is a detail of This is Harlem by Jacob Lawrence. Courtesy of Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. © 2021 The Jacob and Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence Foundation, Seattle / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. For more information, click here.