Letter to the Editor: Students should build culture of open access

Editorials featured in the Forum section are solely the opinions of their individual authors.

Carnegie Mellon’s Open Access Week, part of a worldwide event, focuses on all things openness. It started last Thursday and will run to Thursday of next week. Open access is the principle that all forms of scholarly work, from data and methods to final published output, should be free to read and free to reuse.

Open access has a significant impact on how our tuition money gets spent. Hunt Library spent nearly $3.9 million in 2015 on subscriptions to journals across all fields at Carnegie Mellon, but not all fields are equally expensive. On average, the natural sciences cost the most: chemistry journals are worth about $4,370 each, biology is $3,290, and physics is $3,841.

But these prices are increasing at a rate of two or three times the rate of inflation. The library’s budget cannot keep up with this increase, and they have been forced to make tough decisions about how many resources to commit to non-STEM fields, including books that are the main form of scholarly communication in the humanities.

Additionally, upon graduation, students lose access to the cutting edge research required for competitive innovation. Most startup businesses can’t afford subscriptions to research journals. This is why squatters from Pittsburgh’s innovation community are competing with students for space and access to Hunt Library resources. This can impair students’ ability to do work for class and research.

Carnegie Mellon is a strong supporter of open access through efforts such as the Research Showcase. It is also important for research funders to support open access because research funded by taxpayers should be made freely available to taxpayers. Recognizing the benefits of open access for graduate students, the Graduate Student Assembly signed the "Student Statement on the Right to Research." But open access also benefits undergraduates, so the Undergraduate Student Senate should sign on as well.

There are things you can do. Learn about Open Access. Attend an event this week. Deposit your work, including senior honors theses and capstone projects, in the Research Showcase. Most importantly, help build a culture of openness at Carnegie Mellon.

Paul Tisa
Ph.D. Student — Engineering and Public Policy
Graduate Student Assembly