May 5-11, 2000
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2000 Jefferson Symposium to focus on Jefferson and slavery
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Arts & Sciences faculty face up to spiraling journal costs
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Arts & Sciences faculty face up to spiraling journal costs

By Dan Heuchert

The cost of these four journals -- just the issues, not yearly subscriptions -- totals $1,027.

The cost of academic journal subscriptions is skyrocketing. The University Library's budget for acquiring them is not.

A discussion of the unhappy implications of those statements highlighted the April 26 meeting of Arts & Sciences faculty, the last of the semester. Faculty also heard a progress report from the chair of the Virginia 2020 Commission on the Fine and Performing Arts.

Library officials presented the sobering statistics on journals. While the Consumer Price Index rose 44 percent between 1986 and 1997, the cost of scholarly journals rose by 169 percent, a disparity attributed to the lack of competition for the journals' commercial publishers. Meanwhile, state support for the library's acquisitions budget has remained flat since 1994, in part due to the in-state tuition freeze.

The result is that the library is purchasing 7 percent fewer journal titles than in 1986, but its expenditures for the remaining titles are up 152 percent.

"They're so expensive, we're talking about putting current journals in our new Special Collections building," quipped Deputy University Librarian Kendon Stubbs.

The library staff and Steven Nock, a sociology professor who chairs the University's Library Committee, made some recommendations.

First, they suggested that faculty retain their copyrights to journal articles, or at least sign them over to journal publishers for only a limited time. Currently, faculty write articles free of charge; they are then reviewed by their peers for free, and then the copyrights are assigned free of charge to journal publishers, who sell the journals back to universities at inflated rates.

Nock has already begun retaining his copyrights, and "no [publisher] has balked at this idea," he said.

By retaining the copyrights, faculty could still publish in the journals, but then they could make the information available to the world in less costly forums, perhaps Web sites.

Arts & Sciences Dean Melvyn P. Leffler, a history professor, noted that many in his field have withheld copyrights for years, but it has no effect unless there are alternate outlets for publication.

Secondly, they suggested that the University and faculty explore ways to separate peer review and certification of articles from the process of publication in a journal, perhaps by making the first publication in a different forum altogether -- like the Web.

Provost Peter W. Low said the idea is discussed every year at American Association of Universities meetings, but goes nowhere. Any such separation would have to be a concerted effort, he said, which would raise potentially sticky antitrust concerns.

Finally and most immediately, the committee called for the library system to push document delivery or electronic access over retaining print subscriptions whenever cost-effective and practical. The library staff concurred, and requested that faculty consider such options when making journal requests.

A subscription to the monthly Journal of Comparative Neurology costs $13,900 per year. The journal was re-shelved 52 times last year meaning that it cost approximately $267 per use. Electronic access is only $21.50 per article, a potential savings of $12,782.

However, electronic access does not always make sense. In some journals, content does not always translate well into electronic or photocopied formats. In other cases, complete hard copies are more cost-effective. "This is not a problem that can be solved by throwing money at it," Nock said.

The long-term solution, University Librarian Karin Wittenborg said, may be "to wrest back ownership of this intellectual property from the journals. In the short-term, the library's growing endowment is enabling it to avoid "decimating" the collection. She suggested adding a collection-endowment element to the amount necessary to endow an academic chair, in order to support the work of the professor holding it.

In his presentation, Robert Chapel said the Commission on the Fine and Performing Arts is finalizing its report to President John T. Casteen III. He warned that it is likely to include an expensive list of recommendations. "Our needs are many, and our wish list is long," he said.

Nonetheless, he is optimistic. "I have yet to meet anybody at U.Va. who thinks improving the arts is a bad idea," he said.

Already, the effort has led to better communication between various arts communities, which he hopes will continue with the establishment of a University-wide arts board.

Chapel was inspired by his interactions with several institutions his commission would like to use as benchmarks, places where "cultural life is as valued as academic pursuits," he said.

In closing remarks, Leffler said he was encouraged by this year's faculty recruitment efforts, noting a few departments that had struggled to attract quality applicants had done better.

"We need to make every effort now to retain the best people," he said.


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