A new policy allows graduate students to opt for a two-year embargo on the automatic digital publication of their dissertations, which can be renewed for up to a decade.
The policy change was triggered when the Graduate Council received complaints from alums of the graduate programs in English, who had encountered problems in publishing their first books. These complaints put the need for a policy change “on the radar screen,” said John Tyler, associate dean of academic affairs and associate professor of education, public policy and economics at the Graduate School.
The Graduate Council drafted and ratified the policy change in May 2011 and passed it on to the Graduate Student Council for informal approval last September. The student council gave the new policy a nod, approving its “spirit,” said Matteo Riondato GS, president of the Graduate Student Council. The new policy is already formally enacted, but Tyler and representatives of the library are drafting the policy’s official language for the Graduate School Handbook this week, Tyler said. Under the old policy, dissertations were automatically published online – a “problematic” system, said Khristina Gonzalez GS, a former member of the Graduate Student Council. Digitally stored dissertations are made readily available to the public and subjected to web searches, downloads and copying. Because dissertations frequently make up a significant portion of graduate students’ first books, publishing companies may be hesitant to publish the material in hard copy form when it is already available on the web, Gonzalez said.
“Alumni, especially out of English, were concerned, and their publishers were concerned that if their dissertations could be Google-searched and downloaded, then that was going to affect their ability to get a publication contract,” Tyler said.
Unless the author renews the embargo for another two years, the work will automatically be stored online.
“It’s an opt-out policy, so the default is that your dissertation will be published and go into digital storage,” Tyler said.
In cases where the dissertation involves joint scholarship and an embargo disagreement arises between a student and an adviser, the Graduate Council will adjudicate the case, according to the council’s 2010-11 Annual Report.
“Students are now going to have autonomous control over whether their dissertation gets published, as long as they stay in contact with the University,” Gonzalez said.
While the embargo option may appeal to students in the humanities and social sciences who are looking to publish books upon graduation, other students may choose not to pursue the embargo option, Gonzalez said. For students conducting archival research, automatic digital storage acts as a record of their discovery. Sometimes these findings are time-sensitive, and the dissertation becomes evidence that the student made the discovery first. Automatic online dissertation publication is a means to get information out faster than the traditional publication process, Gonzalez said.
The old dissertation publication policy was “developed in an environment where all dissertations were studied either in hard copy or microfiche formats” and stipulated that all dissertations would be copied and put on file at the University library, according to the Annual Report.
“It was just a different world,” Tyler said.
With the bulk of today’s research occurring online, the new dissertation policy protects the interests of graduate student authors.
“In the end, one of the goals of the University and for research in general is to disseminate the fruits of the work, the fruits of the research and at some point, the information must be made available to the public,” Riondato said.