UC Ends Contract with Elsevier

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“[The] UC is the largest U.S. institution to walk away from a deal with Elsevier and the action could have a ripple effect across this country and around the world.”

The UC terminated its contract with major scientific publisher Elsevier after months of negotiations, according to a Feb. 28 UC Office of the President press release.

“It’s always been one of our goals to help lead the U.S. from paywall publishing to open access publishing,” said Publisher Negotiation Task Force co-chair Jeffrey MacKie-Mason. “We’re trying to transform the entire industry.”

Elsevier publishes about 18 percent of journal articles written by UC researchers. The journals are in fields like physical sciences, engineering, health sciences and humanities. With a subscription contract, UC faculty and students could access millions of peer-reviewed articles through the ScienceDirect platform.

With the lapse in contract, Elsevier may begin to turn off the UC’s direct access to some articles published in 2019. Most Elsevier-published articles produced before 2019 and all articles published OA will be available to UC researchers.

The UCOP press release stated the two parties could not reach an agreement that met the UC’s goals. UC Santa Cruz university librarian Elizabeth Cowell said the UC negotiating task force sought to facilitate open access (OA) publishing of UC research and contain costs by combining the subscription fee and OA processing charges.

In an email to UCSC students, faculty and staff, Cowell and chair of the UCSC Academic Senate Kimberly Lau addressed the lack of an agreement that included these goals.

“To meet UC’s goal of open access publication for all UC authors, Elsevier would have charged authors over $10 million per year in addition to the libraries’ current multi-million dollar subscription,” Cowell and Lau said in the email.

Ivy Anderson, co-chair of the UC’s Publisher Negotiation Task Force, described the UC’s proposal to Elsevier in an email.

“[…] Our proposal would have made UC articles in Elsevier journals open access by default, in a cost-effective way, with significant financial support from the libraries to cover any open access charges,” Anderson said in an email.

The UC Academic Senate supported the UC’s decision to let the contract lapse in a statement made on Feb. 28, citing the UC’s mission as reason to stand firm in their goals.

Tom Reller, spokesperson and head of media relations for Elsevier, doesn’t view the UC’s push for an immediate switch to an OA model as reflective of Elsevier’s other customers’ positions. The company’s customer base includes other academic and research institutions.

“[Elsevier’s] role is to service our customers’ needs,” Reller said. “And they tell us they prefer a mixed model approach where their authors publish both open access and in subscription journals.”

The UC considered an article processing charge (APC) based model in the Elsevier negotiations, said Anderson in an email. This model shifts fees so that authors or libraries pay to make content available online. Some members of the academic community, like Dr. David Shulenburger at the Association of Public and Land- Grant Universities and Dr. Leslie Chan at the University of Toronto, criticize the APC model for being economically unsound and inaccessible to university systems with smaller budgets.

Jeffrey MacKie-Mason, co-chair of the UC’s Publisher Negotiation Task Force, sees the decision to drop the contract as part of a larger movement.

“[The] UC is the largest U.S. institution to walk away from a deal with Elsevier and the action could have a ripple effect across this country and around the world,” MacKie-Mason said in an email. “We hope that UC’s stand elevates the open access conversation and encourages other institutions to reconsider their publishing options for the benefit of scholars and the public.”

During the negotiations, the UC Alternative Access Team created guidelines for getting articles once access is turned off.

1. An OA version of the article may already be available online. Search Google Scholar.

2. Browser extensions or plug-ins can search OA repositories for you. Try OA Button or Unpaywall.

3. Many publishers allow authors to share their articles responsibly. Email the article’s author for a PDF of a reprint.

4. If you’re having trouble, talk to your librarian. They’re here to help.


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