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The Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs met virtually Monday afternoon to vote in SACUA officer elections and hear from James Hilton, University of Michigan dean of libraries, and Charles Watkinson, director of University of Michigan Press and associate University librarian for publishing, about the technology system overhaul that is set to occur this summer and discuss open access publishing agreements. 

During the meeting, Deirdre D. Spencer, University librarian on history of art, spoke about the importance of updating the technology system.

“The problem is that our current system is out of date and isn’t able to support some of the things that need to happen,” Spencer said. “As the technology changes, (system overhauls) need to happen.”

The new library system will incorporate more than 12 million of the library’s resources into a single, accessible platform. Some search results will appear differently, since the new system will differentiate between “electronic” and “print” versions. Most notably, the new platform will not have Mirlyn Classic, an older version of the library catalog. The purpose of this system change is to secure and enhance users’ experience while finding, requesting and borrowing resources, according to the press release. 

SACUA Chair Colleen Conway, professor in the School of Music, Theatre & Dance, said she had received questions from faculty in her department about U-M Library’s April newsletter, which discussed the upcoming technology system overhaul.

“There is a little bit of concern about the timing of all of that, given what we’ve been through in the pandemic,” Conway said. “And concern about lack of information about what’s actually not going to be accessible and how hard this is going to be for (faculty and students).”

Hilton said these system changes are being pursued this summer, as opposed to at a later date, because the hard deadline for starting to switch to the new system is in July 2021.

“The system that we’re replacing, we actually started replacing before the pandemic,” Hilton said. “It’s one of these underlying infrastructure systems that touch almost everything and it’s a multiyear project. So while it’s not the most ideal time, we hope that the disruptions will be minimal.”

While SACUA members expressed concern about whether library resources would be available before the fall semester began, they said they were receptive to the timeline of the technology overhaul.

Conway then asked Hilton to update the faculty on the status of the transformative agreements and what it will look like over the next couple of years. Transformative agreements describe agreements negotiated between institutions and publishers in which former subscription expenditures are repurposed to support open access publishing, or the ability to view or download an article without having to pay.

“Transformative agreements are grounded in inevitability,” Hilton said. “In international trends, funding mandates, scholar attitudes, and publishing practices, you see that the move is towards open scholarship. We’re trying to figure out the implications of that.”

Open access transforms the business model underlying scholarly journal publishing, and some publishers exploit the open access model to charge authors publishing fees, Hilton said. He added that the cost should not be placed on faculty.

“Our plan had been, before COVID hit, to start these negotiations really early,” Hilton said. 

Hilton discussed what the transformative agreements could look like. The U-M Library is thoroughly modeling the best financial option for transformative agreements with publishers that reflect the library’s mission, he said.

Nursing professor Ivo Dinov raised concerns about the lack of access to academic resources.

“How is it possible that a book published by University faculty cannot be accessed by the students?” Dinov said. “We need to change the culture here and make some of the resources available to students more.”

Conway said she was worried about potential financial losses with the shift to open access in the new agreements. A change to the open access model with publishers of scholarly monographs would cause the library to lose money, Conway said. 

Hilton said he expects a negotiation for a one- or two-year extension on the library’s current agreements while they model the financial impacts and effects open access has on a faculty member’s ability to publish.

“Framing this really matters, because all kinds of things (the University) does loses money,” Hilton said. “The primary purpose of (the press) is to facilitate scholarship. You don’t have to answer the question of why are you running a business that’s losing money, because it is not a business. It’s a mission.”

SACUA then moved into an Executive Session to hold officer elections. The Michigan Daily obtained a copy of these election results from MaryJo Banasik, director of the Faculty Senate Office. 

Beginning May 1, Engineering Professor Allen Liu will serve as SACUA Chair and Caitlin Finlayson, English literature professor at U-M Dearborn, will serve as SACUA Vice Chair.

Daily Staff Reporter Scarlett Bickerton can be reached at