Aha Dissertations

Aha Dissertations-62
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.The deeper issue, however, is a longstanding one that this repeating cycle of debate may finally force academia to confront and resolve: it is the question of who owns the intellectual work created on campus.

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The OAH appears to accept—indeed, to take it as given—that doctoral dissertations will eventually be shared publicly. consult with each other about the advantages and disadvantages of embargoing a dissertation, leaving the final decision entirely to the individual student.” There are two issues here, one of them relatively superficial and the other more fundamental and significant.

What it urges in this statement, much as the AHA did in its own, is that “advisers and students. The superficial one is the unwillingness of many commentators to accept or even acknowledge the existence of both “advantages and disadvantages” when it comes to dissertation embargoes.

The functional result is the same—the faculty member may do as she wishes with her work—but it gives the institution the option (in theory at least) of deciding to retain copyright and therefore control.

The growing debate surrounding control over dissertations brings a new dimension (and new urgency) to this long-simmering issue, because dissertation authors are students, not faculty members.

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.

The headline calls the OAH’s statement “Another Push for Embargoes,” which manages to be wrong twice in the course of four words.

The OAH’s statement is not a push for embargoes, but a push for authors to be given the choice whether or not to embargo.

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.


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