Open Access Tenure: Interview with David Parry

Earlier this fall, I had the pleasure of chatting with David Parry (@academicdave) about Open Access Tenure. I specifically reached out to David because he had just come through achieving tenure while maintaining an open access policy for his research. While I’ve been dreadfully negligent in getting the notes to him for review, I now have and here are some of the things that we discussed.

David’s background is in communications and digital media and, as we started the conversation, we noted the difference in areas that we’re approaching from (me more from the sciences—due to the medical librarian gig.) David commented that he believed that science has been more receptive to OA (e.g. physicists) and that they are more likely to see the ethical importance of it for things like medicine where you could potentially attribute closed journal publications to people’s health. Personally, I still see some pretty serious resistance in the sciences, though there have been some very positive changes of late.

David said he began thinking about open access while he was in graduate school, looking at inequalities of access in the past and then seeing them continue to present day. He felt that with a choice as an academic to choose where he wanted to publish, there was an opportunity. Though he found some support, David said that he believed that Associate and Full tenured professors weren’t going to change the system for the Assistant Professors. For himself, he started going the green route, doing some closed access publications with prepubs in the repository. David started focusing on only OA work in the past three (now 3.5) years. Now, he says he only will publish something if there is going to be a free digital version somewhere.

David started going OA at SUNY Albany, but when he was hired at UT Dallas—who would grant him OA tenure last summer, it was something that he discussed openly with his boss and that he found support for as he became a Digital Media hire. He said that among the faculty there was some pushback about “publishing in good journals” and countering what he saw as a limited view of publication (analog, in print), but that he felt that it was a fight worth having and winning.

When I first approached David for a chance to talk, he’d just recently accepted a new job at St. Joseph in Pennsylvania. It’s a Jesuit institution and that appealed to him as they have a very strong social justice stance. He liked the pairing of open access and social justice, seeing them mesh well together. I asked if he thought it had influenced the hiring decision and he wasn’t sure it particularly mattered, though the ability to focus on the ethics of OA did.

The hardest thing he said he encountered was that many people do not understand that OA and Peer Review are not mutually exclusive. Many times he’d be questioned if something was an either/or situation and whether that was willful ignorance, not knowing/caring, or an honest mistake, it was taking a lot of education. He felt that there was some push by the closed access publishers to further this misinterpretation.

One question I had was if he had ever declined an opportunity due to his OA policy. David said yes, he’d turned a number of opportunities down. Particularly, he said, he’d been asked to be a reviewer or to work on or review textbooks. His first strategy is always to try and negotiate, depending on what it was, and that he’d often suggest that he’d be willing to review for an OA issue in the future. He mentioned one example with a Routledge journal (I don’t have written down which one) where he’d tried unsuccessfully to negotiate them down to just a year embargo. When they wouldn’t accommodate that request, he pulled the piece and sent it elsewhere to be published.

David noted that open access opportunities are definitely uneven across the disciplines. For him, in Media Studies, part of the reason he felt confident in pursuing OA Tenure was that he had enough journals where he could make those choices. One journal he pointed to was First Monday, which is on OJS and happens to live on servers at my place of work. But, we discussed, other fields may not have these journals in place.

David and I touched briefly on alt-metrics and citations. He said it was something that he’s not currently tracking as much, but noted that it can definitely be important to provide the data when making your case.

David and I also discussed how OA can go forward a bit, both in the classroom and further in academia. In teaching, David said he saw it in a broad sense connected to SOPA and the PIPA debates, determining who has access and controls dissemination of knowledge—not just in academica but in a broader sense. Similarly, many of his students are already participating in the web and he sees many opportunities to ask students to consider why they are making access choices the way that they are and encouraging them to question the standard choices that many people make.

In regards to libraries, David said he hopes to see more libraries move into the role of journal publishers—rather than paying out $X to only access journals, use the same money to create journals, and each university running a few journals and specializing their area of publishing. He’s seeing some of this already cropping up and would like to see more of the science literature funded as part of the grants that come out (note this conversation was before the OSTP stuff started trickling in, though we touched on that). For the humanities, he pointed to the logic that it is rare that an academic tome is going to make millions, so going the open access route allows the research a much broader opportunity for impact.

I asked what advice David would offer to someone considering OA Tenure. His first comment was “Don’t be me; I can be militant.” Tenure, he recognized, is a very political game but he said he hadn’t wanted it if he could only get it by acting in a manner that he felt was unethical. However, he noted, there were ways to couch the work and to be strategic so as to be best received by a broader audience. Some people will isolate themselves [Hmm, that might be me] but he acknowledged a real need to make sure to win over the middle ground people.

One specific suggestion he had, going back to the difficulty in getting people to note OA can also be peer reviewed is that one has to be very clear when making your case. It’s Open Access yes, but YES IT WAS PEER REVIEWED. He also strongly suggested finding other open access academics who are through the process so that they can write letters of support for your tenure case and highlight why it is important in your field.

My thanks go to David for spending the time chatting with me and patiently waiting while I got these notes turned into something coherent!

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