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The Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs representatives met in the Fleming Administrative Building to discuss University of Michigan funding and challenges facing the University library system and the University Press on Monday afternoon.

James Hilton, University librarian and dean of libraries, and Charles Watkinson, director of the U-M Press, both attended the meeting to offer insights and answer questions from faculty representatives.

The first topic of discussion was open access, or the ability for University faculty and students to get access to research materials and e-books without facing a paywall.

“The way that I think people here have tended to talk about open access — and (the way) people in library communities tend to talk about open access — is as almost a moral right of readers to have access to information,” Hilton said.

According to Hilton, the issue of copyrights is related to open access. Copyrights can often hinder the ability of the University to gain access to potential library resources. Hilton says the issue of copyrights is something all universities must contend with in developing their library systems, and one that is more complex than many would assume. 

“Lots of people think that the only things that are copywritten are things that are formally published, or things that you attach a copyright notice to, or something like that,” Hilton said. “That is not true. If I sit down right now and take that piece of paper and write some new creative expression, it is protected by copyright from the moment that I write it.”

Hilton also addressed a recent push to enter into an agreement with the other 13 Big Ten universities which could reduce the costs of publishing and purchasing library resources like e-books. According to Hilton, this policy — while seemingly appealing  — could disadvantage U-M more than other Big Ten schools.

“It’s probably pretty easy to assume that across the Big Ten, we’re all kind of readers,” Hilton said. “So if you just take iPads, and you split up the consortium subscription by bodies, you get a pretty fair distribution. That is not true if you shift pay for publishing. We publish disproportionately more. So even if we went in with a consortium agreement with the Big Ten, what Michigan might have to pay would be very different.”

Hilton also discussed the University Press, which he explained is an important tool for a university to improve its reputation, rather than simply a means of bringing in revenue.

“I would argue the University presses collectively provide the infrastructure that supports scholarly publishing in the humanities and humanistic social sciences,” Hilton said. “Historically, that has been based on the notion that you can sell enough books to make back costs. That is not true now and has not been true for the majority of presses for quite some time.”

Hilton explained because of this challenge of meeting costs, the University must find other sources of revenue, whether from donations or receiving a larger portion of the University’s endowment.

“(The fact) that there are 100 presses out there is really important for the humanities and social sciences,” Hilton said. “So our proposal is basically over time, we have to find a way to fund the press commission. What do I mean by that? I mean we need to figure out what it costs to publish 90 or so manuscripts a year, books a year. And what would you need in base funding to support that?”

Watkinson also provided input on the challenges facing the University Press, arguing that depending on the discipline, the University faces competition from several other presses.

“African Studies, for example, it would be the Ohio University Press, which is not a very well-known press elsewhere,” Watkinson said. “Political science is interesting because it’s a lot of commercial publishers now — Routledge, Palgrave. Classics, I think we often lose books to Cambridge University Press. So it does depend on the discipline, who the competing press would be.”

Following the committee’s conversation with Hilton and Watkinson, the session concluded with a unanimous vote to approve e-voting for faculty senate, which would expedite the decision making process of Senate Assembly. 

SACUA member Neil Marsh explained how this policy would make it easier for members to vote on important proposals, especially if they could not be present at votes themselves.

“Basically this in a way of asking the Senate just to green light a move into the 21st century which had become hamstrung by the quorum rule, (which is that) you can’t change the rules because you never get enough people,” Marsh said. “So this is a way to eventually be able to give more of the faculty more saying opinion.”

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