By Alaina Perdon
Elm Staff Writer
“Knowledge should not be accessible only to those who can pay,” Robert May, chair of the University of California’s faculty Academic Senate, addresses his fellow board members in a conference last week. “The quest for full open access is essential if we are to truly uphold the mission of this university.”
College students across the nation are all too familiar with the sinking feeling that comes with reading the title of a fantastic research paper online, only to be assaulted with a pop-up window prompting them to enter their credit card information to access the rest of the article. PDFs of published research papers can typically be downloaded for around $40, but whole journals or other particularly expansive works may set a student back up to $500.
The University of California has just taken a massive step to smash these paywalls. On Feb. 28, the university terminated its subscription to Elsevier, the largest distributor of scientific journals responsible for disseminating 18 percent of the world’s scientific articles.
Forcing readers to pay for information not only hurts students trying to complete assignments, it stops knowledge from being spread to the public.
“Publishing our scholarship behind a paywall deprives people of the access to and benefits of publicly funded research. That is terrible for society,” said Jeffrey MacKie-Mason, university librarian and economics professor at UC Berkeley.
Higher education is frequently seen as a privilege. Corporations capitalizing on humanity’s inherent desire for knowledge is a potent example of the elitist mentality sweeping the country. Education is far from a privilege, it is a basic right, and blocking those who cannot afford it from accessing forms of education hinders the growth of society.
A press release by UC states the university’s legal team attempted to negotiate a contract with Elsevier that would integrate subscription charges and open access publishing fees, allowing free access for UC students; however, the company refused to heed the university’s request.
While the UC community is in support of this change, a number of students have voiced concerns about losing access to the resources Elsevier provides. In response, the university’s library has published a list of alternative programs to utilize to access the same material.
“That research is publicly funded. The results belong to the public,” a library employee explains, “Some people just want to make it really hard for the public to get what’s rightfully theirs.”
UC’s choice was bold, but hopefully their actions will catalyze a revolution in the realm of academia. A union of learning institutions rejecting the notion that information only belongs in the hands of those that can afford it will eventually lead to the abolishment of this corrupt system. Making all publications “open source” will create a better-educated, more well-rounded society — something everyone can benefit from.