Following on from my last post on academic freedom and statements of principle, I want to further clarify my thoughts on how academic freedom relates to open access mandates. Paradoxically, despite claiming that objections to open access mandates on the grounds of academic freedom are mere conservatism, it is likely that the coercive aspect of mandates is what perpetuates such objections.
Put simply, forcing someone to do something is not a particularly good way of encouraging engagement with the reasons for doing it. When people are asked to comply with a mandate, they are associating whatever they are being asked to do with a loss of freedom, rather than something they have decided to explore for themselves. This is especially true in the contemporary neoliberal university where the brutality of compliance and measurement are two of its defining features. For mandates tied to funding instruments like the REF, an exercise already loathed by academics in the UK, academics will associate OA with an instrument of assessment and compliance, rather than something with potential emancipatory benefits.
But OA does have potential emancipatory benefits. Mandates would be fine if ‘public access’ was the end point of this whole
This does not mean that OA policies cannot stimulate such experimentation through funding grassroots projects and alternatives to commercial publishing — and they no doubt should do. But on their own, mandates seek compliance (alongside additional
Rather than telling academics that the case for OA has already been won (because it clearly hasn’t) and that they need to get on board with it, a better strategy of engagement is through non-discursive means. Groups such as the Radical Open Access Collective and initiatives such as the Open Library of Humanities and the New University Press landscape represent an alternative form of open access through their interventions and practices as much as their arguments. Policymakers would be wise to spend at least as much time and resources encouraging such alternative projects as they do mandating open access.