University of California drops subscription to Elsevier, the world’s largest publisher of academic journals

The University of California has dropped its subscription to Elsevier, which is the world’s largest publisher of academic research journals. The main rationale behind this decision was due to the fact that academic publishing costs have increased rapidly out of control, according to UC President Janet Napolitano.

“I fully support our faculty, staff and students in breaking down paywalls that hinder the sharing of groundbreaking research,” said Napolitano. “This issue does not just impact UC, but also countless scholars, researchers and scientists across the globe — and we stand with them in their push for full, unfettered access.”

The decision occurred after repeated negotiations behind closed doors failed to produce tangible results that satisfied the demands of the UC Board of Regents. Generally, Elsevier has been a important tool that allows researchers to print their reports in return for almost completely open access everywhere around the globe. However, costs have skyrocketed far past the normal rate of inflation. Before cancellation, Elsevier cost the University of California $10 million per year.

In an interview with the Highlander, current Vice Chancellor of Research and Economic Development Dr. Michael Pazzani expressed strong support for the decision to terminate Elsevier from the University of California. “The internet and digital publishing have changed the underlying technology of publishing and reading articles, but the business model has remained the same,” said Pazzani. “This business model is good for Elsevier because it does not pay faculty or students to write papers nor to review papers. Other industries have transformed as well, including music, video and commerce.”

Pazzani predicted that there will be some short term pain for faculty and students to find articles published after 2019, but in the long run this decision will accelerate the transformation of the publishing industry as faculty and students shift their publications to publishers that embrace open access. Efforts to remove the “middleman” from the highly profitable business of academic publishing continue to pose a challenge, but the UC system is the first major institution in the United States to terminate its relationship with Elsevier.

“Make no mistake: The prices of scientific journals now are so high that not a single university in the US — not the University of California, not Harvard, no institution — can afford to subscribe to them all,” Jeffrey MacKie-Mason, a UC librarian and economics professor, said in a press statement. The push for universal open access is not just a sentiment within California – in fact, being able to read academic journals is even more difficult on non-Western countries such as Iran, where costs can rise up to $1,000 per week to acquire basic literature for graduate courses.

Universities banded together in Germany, Sweden and Hungary last year but also failed to reach an agreement with Elsevier over the same demands for a publish and read deal. Due to the terminated contract with Elsevier, it is unclear how current UCR faculty and students will adapt to changing policies and circumstances.

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