‘2020 with OABN’

Lucy Barnes, Tom Mosterd, and Agata Morka, on the recently established Open Access Books Network (OABN):

We have come a long way from what started as a post-conference conversation in a bar in Marseille back in the summer of 2019, where the idea of creating a network for the OA books community was first discussed. The Open Access Books Network was formally launched in September and, as this strange year comes to a close, we wanted to have a look back at some of the OABN 2020 highlights. 

OABN was one of the only good things to come out of 2020.

‘All of these research conferences are heavily funded by industry’

Timnit Gebru, in a VentureBeat interview:

A lot of people have been talking about that. All of these research conferences are heavily funded by industry, so right now what is computer science research? It’s like you’ve got the military and you’ve got corporations. What are our other options? Like sometimes there’s NIH, but there just needs to be stuff that’s not associated with the military or corporate interests that funds research because inherently there is a conflict of interest. I’m not saying that there shouldn’t be research at corporations. I think there should be, but when you have the kind of things like what you’re seeing with me, and especially with the [research] censorship, and then you see the types of influence they have in these conferences, I think it’s something that people really need to think about.

The problem is that when you do research that requires a lot of resources, this becomes even more of a problem. That’s a little bit of what we talked about in the paper too.

This is the crux of the issue—the deep entanglement of big tech in the AI ethics world. It’s a problem across the digital research landscape.

‘Saint Rose to discontinue academic programs as part of proactive plan to address financial challenges’

Another Catholic shoe to drop:

As part of a multi-year financial plan for the College’s long-term financial sustainability, the Saint Rose Board of Trustees has approved a plan to reduce academic expenses by $5.97 million, including the closure of 16 unique bachelor’s degrees, six unique master’s degrees, and three certificate programs

The Saint Rose press release doth protest too much:

These changes will not impact the Saint Rose mission of graduating students with critical thinking and writing skills and a deep understanding of how to look at the challenges of our world through the lens and construct of social justice.

The evidence:

In recent years, Saint Rose has relaunched its Bachelor of Science in Nursing, and launched undergraduate degrees in sales management and cybersecurity, a Master of Science in Social Work, a new delivery model for its MBA called the Flex MBA, and 2-in-4 programs, which allow students to earn both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in four years, saving them time and money.

‘U of Vermont to Cut 12 Majors, 11 Minors’

University of Vermont Dean of Arts and Sciences, quoted in Inside Higher Ed to justify the elimination of 12 “low-enrollment” majors:

“This decision has been extremely difficult […] It has been informed by data and guided by a strategy to focus on the future success of our college by consolidating our structure and terminating programs that can no longer be supported without jeopardizing programs with more robust enrollment.”

Seeing (and talking) like a GE middle manager.

‘Colleges Grapple With Grim Financial Realities’

Speaking of “program prioritization,” this piece on rough college finances in today’s Chronicle features University of Scranton president Edward Steinmetz:

“If it’s a $12-million hit, that’s huge,” he says. “We’ve had negative variances in the past, but never to that extreme.” In late March, the university got a sense that the pandemic could be long and damaging. “We started to alter our plans, because our fiscal year begins June 1. It allowed us to say, The world has changed. What can we impact right away?” The university eliminated salary increases, reduced pension contributions, and eliminated some positions.

Now the university is going through a longer and more difficult process of examining the enrollment, revenues, and costs of various academic programs, and analyzing which could be cut.

“It forced us to have conversations,” Steinmetz says, “which I think was a sea change for campuses like ours and a lot of academic leadership. They’re not used to those conversations.”

Steinmetz sounds suspiciously giddy that this crisis won’t go to waste.

‘Jesuit College Workers Unite’

Elizabeth Redden, writing for Inside Higher Ed:

An alliance of faculty, staff and graduate student unions; American Association of University Professor chapters; and student organizations has come together to support a new petition opposing “the rash of austerity-driven layoffs, firings and program eliminations occurring and under consideration by Jesuit institutions across the United States.”

The department gutting—often conducted under so-called “program prioritization” campaigns—is particularly egregious in light of the Jesuit tradition. If philosophy, religion and other core liberal arts programs are on the chopping block, why keep the lights on at all?

The KU Leuven Fund for Fair OA

Dummy Verbeke, writing on behalf of the KU Leuven Libraries, on the KU Leuven Fund for Fair OA:

The fund is exclusively devoted to the support of non-profit and community-owned initiatives in the field of Open Access and Open Scholarship in general. It is not a library-supported APC fund, which all too often results in channeling money to traditional suppliers without solving any of the three issues raised above. Instead, it is our way of making sure that at least part of the available library budget is safeguarded to support alternatives, fostering diversity of business models in the market of academic publishing and helping those who are willing to try something new.

This is a great model, ripe for widespread emulation. Lots of libraries support community-owned, nonprofit initiatives, but most of the spending seems ad hoc. A formal fund structure, with some budget-percentage set-aside—2.5 percent is good target—would provide legitimacy and a measure of stability to the APC-resistant, community-led corner of nonprofit scholarly publishing.

‘Beware the Instant Global-Campus Movement’

Phil Hill, writing in the Chronicle on the recent University of Arizona acquisition of the for-profit Ashford:

Both Arizona and Purdue, with one move, have outwardly leapfrogged their competition and became major players in the online world with a much more diverse set of learners — working adults from underserved demographic groups. So it’s not hard to see why other universities are looking to follow their leads. When Purdue University Global was being approved by accreditors in 2018, there were already a dozen other nonprofit colleges exploring potential acquisitions of existing for-profit online universities. This appears to be an emerging, problematic trend. Call it the Instant Global Campus movement.

Hill’s main beef with the movement is that these insta-campuses are isolated from their co-branded brick-and-mortar universities. Fair enough. But the real problem is the stealth privatization of the public land-grant university:

Under the Purdue and Arizona arrangements, the parent for-profit companies, Kaplan Higher Education and Zovio, transition immediately from the perilous for-profit sector, with its shrinking enrollments and reputational baggage, into the lucrative and growing online-program-management market. The companies not only gain Purdue and Arizona as clients, each worth hundreds of millions of dollars per year in revenue, but also get a springboard to serve many other colleges with these services.

Coming Soon: Communications of the AMS, a New Diamond Journal

An interesting tidbit, buried in a Scholarly Kitchen post on the implications of COVID for professional associations:

At the [American Mathetical Society], our approach is to look to Diamond OA for a new broad-based math journal, Communications of the AMS, launching in 2021 and funded by an AMS donor, but we realize that this is not an option open to all society publishers.

‘Without stronger academic governance, Covid-19 will concentrate the corporate control of academic publishing’

This April piece by COPIM‘s Samuel Moore has aged pretty well:

If things were tough already for small, not-for-profit, and university press publishers, they are going to get worse during the downturn. Higher education is predicted to be badly hit by the crisis and this will have a knock-on effect on purchasing decisions, university press subsidies and overall budget availability.


[University of Michigan Press director Charles Watkinson] is absolutely correct that larger commercial publishers – the oligopoly – will be well positioned to take advantage of new economic conditions and will probably even further consolidate their market power. In controlling the majority of academic journals, these companies will be able to price journal packages in a way that makes them attractive to cash-strapped institutions, giving them a competitive advantage over the smaller publishers, not-for-profits, monograph publishers, and so on. Where open access is concerned, this will mean banging to the beat of the oligopoly’s drum, likely through increased transformative agreements, APC publishing and infrastructures that track researchers and monetise their data.

It is also worth remembering that open access is now key to the business strategies of large commercial publishers who have figured out how to monetise subscription content, open access content and data analytics.


So, Covid-19 does not ‘kill’ the for-profit business model [and] in fact might strengthen profiteering through the ability of the publishing oligopoly to weather the financial downturn and dictate the future of open access according to their conditions. While this might increase the amount of open access research available, it will be at the expense of the loss of control by the research community and the continued dominance of a handful of players. Such is the problem of a move to open access that is not emancipatory from capital, or at least antagonistic towards it.

‘Reassembling Scholarly Communications’

Jonathan Gray, announcing his new collection, co-edited with Martin Eve:

MIT Press have recently published a new book on Reassembling Scholarly Communications: Histories, Infrastructures, and Global Politics of Open Access edited by Martin Eve and myself. […] My chapter, “Infrastructural Experiments and the Politics of Open Access” examines how scholarly communication infrastructures may be taken as both an object of research and a site of experimentation to explore questions of who has access, what counts, what matters, and how relations are organised.

I can’t wait to dig into the whole book, which is (of course) available OA.

SPARC Copyright Policy Report

From the press release on the just-released SPARC Europe report copyright and licensing policy [pdf]:

Clear from this study: the majority of publishers have yet to embark on a more OA friendly policy journey, though some are making preparations. “If these publishers choose to continue on their current course, their authors will continue to find complying with OA policy requirements problematic — unless funders change their grant conditions and/or institutions/authors retain their rights,” wrote the authors.

The whole report is worth reading, but of special interest are the recommendations, which lay out best practices for foot-dragging publishers (and other stakeholders). Still, SPARC Europe’s fixation on CC BY—part of a wider CC BY fetishism in segments of the OA world—is frustrating. There are good reasons to encourage non-commercial OA licenses like CC BY-NC: to block commercial exploitation and to encourage a nonprofit scholarly communication ecosystem.

‘The Ultimate Disrupter To Higher Education Isn’t Silicon Valley. It’s Faculty.’

A deeply cynical Forbes piece by Kaplan’s Brandon Busteed:

The current narrative about the edtech industry is that it’s driven by innovative disrupters from outside of education – the proverbial Silicon Valley story of tech entrepreneurs finding solutions to all our most vexing problems. This disrupter story gets even more pronounced in higher education by the contrasting view of colleges and universities as institutions beholden to tradition, held back by faculty who are reticent to change. But that narrative is going to shift.

Faculty, Busteed writes, are responsible for MOOCs and have founded a bevy of startups. So the campaign to remake higher ed in the image of venture capital is, his reasoning goes, organic after all.

This is hogwash, of course: The fact that a growing number of aca-entrepreneurs betray their own values to enrich themselves doesn’t mean that the decades-old commercialization trend is faculty-led. Busteed, anyway, doesn’t really believe his own thesis. The reason to prime this narrative pump, he admits, is widespread faculty opposition. If only those pesky academics could be convinced that their peers were leading the charge, perhaps they’d stand down:

Any time “disruption” or “reform” is brought up in education circles, it typically raises the hackles of teachers and faculty. But when a new initiative or disruption is led by a faculty member, it certainly changes the tone and considerably lessens potential negativity and resistance. This is not to say that all faculty innovations prove successful, nor that outsiders can’t build incredibly successful initiatives. But holding the idea constant, one initiated by faculty – by insiders – has an ‘acceptance’ advantage over something developed outside the academy. In short, there’s inherent credibility in faculty-generated innovations and we would all be wise to pay closer attention to faculty-driven innovation, to proactively seek it out and to embrace it when it happens.

Busteed wants to bring about the misleading narrative he purports, in the piece‘s headline and opening grafs, to merely describe. As pro-corporate propaganda.

‘Online course platform Thinkific raises $22M’


It’s been a big year for online learning companies — and it sounds like Thinkific is no exception. The Vancouver-based startup is announcing that it has raised $22 million in new funding.

Thinkific is different from businesses such as MasterClass (which raised $100 million this year) and Skillshare (which raised $66 million) because it doesn’t create, distribute or monetize online classes itself. Instead, it’s built a platform where anyone can create their own courses, then sell them on their own websites.

From the main VC:

“Working with Thinkific over the past four years has been nothing short of exceptional,” said Rhino Managing Partner Fraser Hall in a statement. “It’s no secret that its business model, user numbers, and ~ 150% year-over-year revenue growth, is tracking, by stage, very closely to Shopify which is now Canada’s most valuable public company … It’s a model that is undoubtedly shaping a new world of knowledge entrepreneurship and one that’s accessible to any individual or organization that wants to add education as a new revenue channel.”

The gold rush continues.

Proposal: Align Reward Structure with Corporate and Faculty Greed

From an NSF-funded, cross-university campaign to oil the gears of faculty profiteering:

In order to gain broad support for the recognition of [Innovation & Entrepreneurship] within [Promotion and Tenure] guidelines and processes, it is critical that I&E supporters on university campuses use language and terminology which is relatable across their institution. For example, PTIE organizers and many others have found that use of the “societal” or “public”  phraseology (e.g. societal / public impact, societal need, Public Impact Research) to be an effective mechanism to inclusively engage with faculty around the topics of I&E.

Translation: Bathe the proposal to promote profiteering in the misleading language of “public impact.” As if the point isn’t clear—don’t dare call the proposal for what it is—the statement continues:

Use of alternate terms such as “economic impact” or “market impact” can create a misperception of an overweighting of importance on the financial aspects of the faculty member’s work in I&E. Additionally, not all I&E-related impact has an immediate and/or overt linkage to a financial transaction. This approach allows the topic to be viewed more broadly across campus and support a wider cross-section of faculty.

If these are indeed “recommendations”, the main one is to lie to fellow faculty.

Happy 5th Birthday to OLH

From the Open Library of Humanities blog:

The Open Library of Humanities today celebrates its 5th anniversary since we launched our platform on 28th September 2015 with only 7 journals and 99 supporting institutions. Five years on, our sustainable business model has attracted nearly 300 supporting institutions, proving the success of its pioneering non-classical economic model, and enabling us to establish a thriving platform of 28 peer-reviewed journals.

In many ways OLH, and its chief scholar-visionary Martin Eve, have pioneered the crucial third-way library-funding model. Cheers!

The Ed Tech Gold Rush Continues

“Innovators,” the Inside Higher Ed headline has it, “see Zoom University 2.0.” By “innovation,” though, Inside Higher Ed seems to mean “venture-backed profit-seeking.” Here’s the latest entrant in the “space”:

Developed in just a few months, Hall and her team have been furiously coding to create a beta version of InSpace that Champlain College and several other institutions will try in the coming weeks. The university recently awarded InSpace $50,000 to run a pilot program and cover its cloud computing expenses.

The VC-backed ed-tech gold rush continues. The stakes shouldn’t need restating: Will our teaching infrastructure get handed over to for-profit corporations?

Here Comes the Post-COVID Ed Tech VC Rush

Techcrunch on a new VC-backed startup, ClassEDU, and its first product, Class for Zoom:

Today, Class for Zoom announced that it has raised a $16 million seed round, pre-launch, co-led by Deborah Quazzo of GSV Ventures and Santi Subotovsky of Emergence Capital and a current Zoom board member. Other investors includee Jim Scheinman of Maven Ventures, an early investor in Zoom and the person who is credited with naming Zoom; Bill Tai, who is Zoom’s first committed backer; Steve Case, co-founder of AOL and CEO of Revolution.

At the schoolhouse intersection of surveillance and profit:

Less popular, [CEO] Chasen jokes, is Class for Zoom’s ability to give teachers intel on if a student has Zoom as the primary app in use on their screen. The attention-tracking feature is not new, but it is oversight some people might not be okay with. Students can disable the ability to track focus, but administrators can make it mandatory. The platform also allows teachers to monitor a student’s desktop during an exam to limit cheating.

Class for Zoom’s access to a student’s personal computer could make some users uncomfortable. Zoom has been banned from some school districts due to security concerns, and a wave of Zoombombing attacks, where an unwanted participant hacks into a call and streams inappropriate or offensive content. In response, the video conferencing company has put in security measures, such as verification tools and waiting rooms.