Since my earlier post today, the debate over what the Twitterverse is now calling #ahagate has heated up rather than cooled down. Former American Historical Association president William Cronon has weighed in, as has the Harvard University Press. I’ve spent a good part of my Friday afternoon reading through the various responses on both sides of the debate about the AHA’s statement on embargoing dissertations and feel as though I’ve gained a much clearer understanding of the issues at play.
Having said that, I stand by my criticism of the AHA statement in my previous post. In fact, I feel even more strongly about that criticism, having read back through the history of the AHA’s position on open access scholarship. Before I explain why my feelings have gotten stronger rather than more forgiving, I want to stipulate one thing: I agree with the AHA that authors ought to have control over the ways in which their work is published, and so I agree that PhD students should be able to decide how their dissertations are published, with one caveat.
First, my caveat on authorial control. There is a reasonable question to be asked whether or not universities, especially state universities that are funded by the taxpayers, have the right to decide how doctoral dissertations will be published and disseminated. I can make a strong argument for the fact that dissertations written at state-funded universities can be considered public property, given that the university (i.e., the taxpayers) provides a venue, a faculty, a library, an Internet connection, and in many, many cases, multiple years of scholarship funding to doctoral students. With all of that financial investment in the dissertation, why should dissertation authors be able to lock their work away for some number of years? [For a dissent