Harvard Now Spending Nearly $3.75 Million on Academic Journal Bundles

A Harvard faculty committee says that the situation is "untenable" and asks faculty members to publish in open-access publications.

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Flickr/samirluther

Harvard may be the second-wealthiest nonprofit institution in the world (right behind the Catholic Church) but even so the price tag for its collection of academic journal bundles lining its libraries' shelves is too high: close to $3.75 million*, according to a memo from a faculty committee released last week. Some journals cost as much as $40,000 (more than one year of tuition!) and many cost thousands or tens of thousands. 

The academic publishing industry is renowned for its unwieldy market power, which has enabled it to push prices ever upward, keep research locked away for subscribers only, even though its product is the fundamentally the result of university-paid faculty working on publicly-funded research. As Geroge Monbiot explains in The Guardian:

What we see here is pure rentier capitalism: monopolising a public resource then charging exorbitant fees to use it. Another term for it is economic parasitism. To obtain the knowledge for which we have already paid, we must surrender our feu to the lairds of learning.

The situation, the committee writes, is "fiscally unsustainable and academically restrictive."

In response, the committee is recommending that faculty consider publishing their work in open-access publications instead of commercial imprints such as Elsevier, which has come under fire this year for its high profit margins and support of a bill to ban publicly-accessibly publication online (support which it has since withdrawn). They say, "Move prestige to open access." And indeed that is the power Harvard's faculty holds: They can endow publications with prestige -- an elusive quality publications take years building -- by putting their names and work inside the bindings.

This recommendation is just a suggestion, but if the university's administration were to put some incentives behind it, it could have real power.


*A reader has brought it to my attention that I should have been more clear in stating that these costs are incurred on an annual basis.

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Rebecca J. Rosen is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where she oversees the Business Channel. She was previously an associate editor at The Wilson Quarterly.

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