Saturday, March 15, 2008

Iowa Masters Thesises Available Online?

Thanks to David and Pale for this link to James Hynes's post about the Google Open Access to Iowa Masters Thesises.

Excerpt:

My name is Jim Hynes, and I'm a graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop ('89), as well as a former visiting professor at the Workshop (winter semester, 2005). I'm writing to you because I'm one of the Iowa grads who will be affected by the University's policy of providing open access to creative graduate theses, and I'm not happy about it.

My objection is both a matter of principle and a matter of my own personal, practical interest. As a matter of principle, it strikes me as outrageous that a university should actively violate the copyright of its own students. I understand the principle of free exchange of scholarship that underlies open access, but surely it must be self-evident that creative works fall under a different interpretation. These are works of art, acts of individual expression, and while I'm not a copyright scholar, I do know how hard it has been for creative writers over the centuries to gain control over their own work. For an institution of higher learning—and one that is branding itself as "the writing university," no less—to disregard that history and make its graduates' work freely available is a betrayal of the trust of every writing student who has ever graduated from one of the university's writing programs.

18 comments:

Marie London said...

Am I smoking crack? Isn't the plural of thesis, theses? Have we changed the word due to its embarrassing phonetic resemblance to feces?

Vince said...

This is unchartered territory that the University of Iowa needs to really think about. The IWW--by far and away--is a crown jewel among writing programs...and Iowa loves it. It's important to draw a distinction between a creative thesis and a scholarly research thesis. Iowa needs to give its students (and alumni) a choice somewhere or somehow regarding open access to their own work. Seth?

Brian said...

I don't get what the big deal is about allowing access to the theses. Why should Hynes care that someone might be able to view, online, the work he did as a grad student? Correct me if I'm wrong here, but isn't part of the reason that we're writers the fact that we'd like others to read our work? How does this choice by Iowa change that, or does Hynes think that he will suffer some financial loss because of this decision?

Sarah Perrault said...

There are potential losses in that many publications won't take work that has been published before, including electronic publication. Is that what's being considered? I assume that paper access is already available in the university library.

What I don't get is the distinction between creative and scholarly work. I have no less investment of time and work in the dissertation I'm writing than in the essays I write, or in my MFA thesis.

Pensive495 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Pensive495 said...

Right, but by putting your noncreative dissertation online, it is giving you the opportunity to have work available to the public...work that(no offense) has no "commercial" value. By allowing creative theses to be available online they are in essence taking away the students' rights to their work. No publisher will take work that is already available online for free. So after spending 2-3 years building a work that one would hope to attempt to publish upon graduating, these students' work will be unmarketable.

It is not a good thing.

Sarah Perrault said...

Pensive,

Actually, there is harm in having scholarly work made available online. Like many creative writing publishers, many scholarly publisher do not accept previously published work.

Like a thesis, a dissertation is often intended to become a book. In my field, "booking the diss" is a standard step in one's first couple of years as an assistant professor, and getting it published is a key step toward tenure. It is also a key step toward getting one's work to one's scholarly peers, who are unlikely to see it until and unless it appears in a publication forum they frequent. The same goes publishing dissertation chapters as articles.

Ultimately, this is about all writers' rights, no matter what our genre or target publication type.

Sarah Perrault said...

A quick follow-up: The policy at Iowa does apply to scholarly as well as creative works, but it also includes an embargo option. In other words, writers can opt out of the open access publishing.

Pensive495 said...

Yes, but only for two years.

Sarah Perrault said...

Only two years? Damn. I missed that part. Thanks for pointing it out.

Does anyone know if other universities are doing this? That is, is this becoming a common practice?

Aubrey V. Lenahan said...

UNC Greensboro also publishes its MFA theses online, but just this year, has allowed graduates to opt out if they are not comfortable with the practice. I am not sure if, like the Iowa policy, this courtesy expires after two years or not. From what I understand, online publication of MFA theses is fairly common.

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