Aha Dissertations

Aha Dissertations-82
This unwillingness is what leads to outrage in the blogosphere and Twitterverse whenever an organization like the AHA or the OAH publicly suggests that students should have the right to choose how and when their work will be publicly distributed.

This unwillingness is what leads to outrage in the blogosphere and Twitterverse whenever an organization like the AHA or the OAH publicly suggests that students should have the right to choose how and when their work will be publicly distributed.

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The mischaracterizations then go viral, leading to a low-grade moral panic.

This is what happened in the wake of just such a declaration made this past summer by the American Historical Association (AHA); I discussed that statement and the responses to it in an earlier TSK posting.

In my experience, colleges and university administrators are much more concerned—for better or for worse—with attracting top faculty and students in the short run than they are with changing the world of scholarly communication in the long run.

To the degree that that’s truly the case, defusing that competitive dynamic would require a universal commitment on the part of colleges and universities to the principle of asserting ownership over faculty and student work.

Here’s how it goes: first, a scholarly organization makes a statement saying that authors in its field ought to be able to decide for themselves, within limits, whether and for how long their dissertations will be embargoed from public access.

The statement is then publicly mischaracterized in the formal press, the blogosphere, and across social networks.Nor, if it were a push for embargoes, would it be “another” one—the AHA’s earlier statement was not a push for embargoes either.Jaschik’s third mischaracterization of the OAH statement comes in his first sentence: “The Organization of American Historians announced Tuesday that it opposes requirements—being embraced by some universities—that all doctoral dissertations be shared online.” In fact, the OAH says the opposite: The OAH Executive Board strongly supports the right of authors to make their own decisions about the manner in which their doctoral dissertations will be published and circulated.On the one hand, one might see a move to take control of dissertations as even less reasonable than a move to take control of faculty members’ work, since students are not employees—except that, in reality, graduate students almost always employees of the university in addition to being students.An argument can be made (and a respected colleague recently made it in conversation with me) that theses and dissertations are always produced as the result of significant institutional investment: the student may have written the document, but he did so with significant support from the university.Some campuses, however, are moving in the direction of asserting ownership over their faculty’s work.Often, this move takes the form of the institution asserting copyright over the faculty’s work, then automatically assigning it back to the faculty member.On most college campuses, however, faculty members who write articles and books as part of their employment retain the copyright in their work.This makes academia quite unusual: in very few employment situations does the employee retain copyright in work created in the course of performing his or her job duties.It’s faculty members, after all, who wrote and unanimously supported the statement issued by the OAH.CGS has compiled a list of resources for institutions, deans, and program directors seeking more information about new directions or issues in doctoral dissertations.

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