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Published dissertations should be restricted – Open letter to UT Austin

November 4, 2017

For many years now, libraries and the public alike have been buying fewer books, but major universities continue to insist that their graduates’ dissertations be made readily available online. While the policy makes sense in the short term, once a dissertation becomes a book, continued open access damages the interests of its author. 

On 5 Oct. 2017 I wrote to UT Austin’s Assistant Dean of Graduate Studies, requesting that UT reconsider its policy. Since a month has gone by without a reply, I am publishing a simplified version of the letter in the hope of starting a conversation that extends beyond UT to all doctoral graduates affected by this short-sighted kind of regulation.

If you agree, please share this post and write to your relevant graduate dean, mentioning this link. For UT Austin graduates, Assistant Dean Dalton is at jdalton@austin.utexas.edu.

 

Dear John D. Dalton,

I am writing to you as a UT Austin PhD (history, 2008), and as the author of a recently published book with Oxford University Press, to request a reconsideration of UT’s policy regarding the public availability of its doctoral dissertations.

I understand that there is a public-service element to the policy of UT, as a public university, to make its research as widely available as possible. For that reason, dissertations are filed with ProQuest and made downloadable online for no fee through the URL https://repositories.lib.utexas.edu.

However, since this policy was enacted, the publishing world has seen a substantial contraction in library orders for academics’ first books, motivated in part by the belief that there is little need to buy a book upon which a freely-downloadable dissertation is based.

There are two problems here. First, the policy undermines the efforts of university presses to make scholarship available in book form, a format that serves UT’s own graduates as they come up for tenure.

Second, book buyers, including students, often ignore the substantial extra research and rewriting that often goes into turning a dissertation into a book. In my own case, my dissertation “William Jenkins, Business Elites, and the Evolution of the Mexican State: 1910-1960” provided only two-thirds of the content of my book, Jenkins of Mexico, and that two-thirds was substantially revised. All this took years of work.

It is simply too easy to click on a Google link to a UT repositories PDF, rather than consulting (let alone buying) the book. As a result, many will quote or cite work that has been superseded by the author, to the potential detriment of the academic interests and reputation of both.

I am not opposed to the open-access policy per se. Prior to the publication of a book based on a dissertation, it serves both the university’s public duty and the academic community that the research be made readily available.

But it would serve a greater interest if UT were to enact a policy whereby published authors may petition to have their dissertations restricted to on-campus access and paid databases. Thus, I would like to request the restricting of my own dissertation.

With thanks in advance for your attention,

Sincerely,

Andrew

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