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From the Chronicle
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- Date: Thu, 15 May 2003 18:21:33 EDT
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Thursday, May 15, 2003 Ohio State U. Plan to Put Dissertations Online Meets Resistance from Graduate Students By SCOTT CARLSON Some graduate students at Ohio State University are resisting a new policy requiring them to submit their doctoral dissertations electronically so that they can be posted online. The students say they're worried that they might not be able to get the works published in print if they've already appeared on the Web. Ohio State instituted the policy last fall. Archiving the dissertations online saves space in the library, university officials say. And online dissertations have a better chance of being seen by more people, which in turn raises the profile of the institution. Most important, says William A.T. Clark, associate dean of the Graduate School, the policy conforms to the mission of the university. "Our requirement is that a dissertation shall be a contribution to knowledge, so there is an implication that it shall be available to the community at large," he says. However, graduate students and administrators in the English and history departments -- the main objectors to the policy -- worry that posting the documents online could affect the students' abilities to publish the dissertations with journals or university presses. "If [a dissertation] is already available on the Web, there is a question whether publishers will be equally inclined to publish it," says Debra A. Moddelmog, a professor of English who is the director of graduate studies in English. "It seems to be such an uncertain area that we are recommending our students not to put their dissertations online." Ms. Moddelmog says the issue has also raised questions among students about how much control the university can assert over their work. "Our concern is whether this is going to take control of the copyright out of the hands of the student and into the hands of the university," she says. "We feel like if we agree to let them do this, it will just lead to further slippage of the author's rights to his or her works." One graduate student in history, who asked not to be named, also worried that the policy would increase the chances that someone else might plagiarize a student's dissertation. The university has made some concessions to allay the students' concerns. A student can now request a one- to three-year delay in the online publication of the dissertation, which gives the student more time to place the dissertation with a journal or university press. The university is considering offering a five-year delay. "The university has no interest in harming the careers of our students," Mr. Clark says. He adds that publishing the dissertations online will help foil plagiarists because more people will have access to the dissertations and be able to recognize when portions of them are copied elsewhere. No matter what delays are adopted, he points out, all Ohio State dissertations will be posted online sooner or later -- and he says that the university is well within its rights to institute such a policy. The university has traditionally retained some intellectual-property rights to dissertations and student work in the sciences, because the research involved is often done with university grants and equipment. Institutions have claimed intellectual-property rights to student work in the humanities less often, but Mr. Clark thinks a case can be made for doing so. Graduate students are producing such work with the help of, and at the behest of, the university. Some of them are employed as teaching assistants or are working under scholarships. Ray K. Harris, a lawyer who handles copyright and patent cases for Fennemore Craig, one of the largest law firms in Arizona, has studied university polices on intellectual property. He says that copyright on a dissertation can be transferred to the university in only two ways: if the student enters into an agreement with the university or if the student is employed by the university. "Absent one of those two things, the student would own the dissertation," he says. However, he says, even if a student owns the copyright on a dissertation, the university can establish a policy that requires online publication for graduation. "It's a Catch-22," he says. "The student can say, I'm not going to authorize you to publish it. By the same token, the university has the right to set the criteria for graduation. So the price for not publishing it could be not getting the degree." ---
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