First, universities could alter their intellectual property policies to assert that faculty scholarship is, in fact, work made for hire. The legal argument here is simple and persuasive, that faculty work is created by regular employees within the scope of their employment. Courts have recognized this argument for years, but universities have rightly been unwilling to press the case, for fear of doing harm to relations with their faculty members. But as the scholarly publication system increasingly fails to adapt to the radical new conditions created in the digital environment, it is possible to imagine a policy change like this undertaken with the cooperation of the faculty authors themselves.
Second, universities would need to undertake to affect this revolution would be to require that all assessments be based on article-level metrics applied to openly available works. This change sounds very radical, but some institutions are already moving towards it. At the University of Liege, in Belgium, it is already the case that faculty assessment is done only for articles that are in the university’s open access repository; this was the way Liege decided to put teeth into their open access mandate. But universities could require open access and article-level evaluation measures while still supporting a variety of publication models.
And that is the final point to be made about this make-believe revolution. If universities carried it out, it would free up more money than it would cost. Once academic publication in commercial journals was halted, library collection budgets could be redirected. Instead of a long transition period during which costs would be expected to rise because both subscription models and open access based on article processing charges would have to be supported, which is what the Finch Report predicted in the U.K., this suggestion would allow for wholesale cancellation of commercial publications. The money saved would then be available to build up the infrastructure for repositories and to support APCs for gold open access publication.
Authors would have a choice – they could publish in an OA journal or they could publish directly to the institution’s repository. Peer review could be preserved in a distributed model; OA journals would continue to support traditional peer review, while some of the money saved from commercial subscriptions could be redirected to a more independent, discipline-specific system of peer-review. This would provide an important role for scholarly societies, and subventions provided to support such society-run peer-review would help protect those organizations from any negative consequences of this radical re-visioning of the publication system. Societies and non-profit presses, of course, could also find support through the publication of gold OA journals and even monographs. University funds from library collection budgets would be more distributed than they are now, able to be used more efficiently to support activities genuinely central to the academic mission, and they would, I believe, be more than adequate to the task.