Over the past decade, sweeping improvements in the quality and accessibility of the online archives that house doctoral dissertations has spawned a new discussion about intellectual property and public availability of dissertations. Many members of the academic community celebrate this increased accessibility as means of stimulating the intellectual commons. Others have voiced concern that the availability of dissertations online may decrease formal publishing opportunities and, consequently, threaten junior faculty’s path to tenure.
The American Historical Association (AHA) has posted a statement in support of publication embargo of completed history dissertations in digital form for up to six years. This policy recognizes the monograph as the continued “gold standard” for tenure in the humanities, and strives to protect students and young faculty from publishers’ wariness of re-publishing research that is freely available online. See the statement here. Responding to the controversy generated by this statement, AHA has followed up with a Q&A on the issue, here, contributed by UT Austin History Graduate Advisor Jacqueline Jones.
At UT Austin, graduating doctoral students may request up to one year’s delay in the electronic release of their dissertations, per the Graduate School’s “Format Guidelines for Doctoral Dissertations and Dissertation Abstracts,” last updated in September 2010. This fall the Graduate School and the Graduate Assembly plan to re-evaluate this policy.
To contribute to university-wide conversations about dissertation embargo policy, Esther Raizen, Associate Dean for Research in the College of Liberal Arts, is studying the demand for digital dissertations and the effect of online publication on a young faculty member’s prospects for obtaining a contract with a University Press.
Please send your thoughts on the dissertation embargo to Lauren Apter Bairnsfather.