Students can have a tangible impact on an open access policy at their universities, and that impact that doesn’t have to end when we graduate. As open access advocates, we are fighting a long fight—one that might take longer than our degrees. It can take years to pass an OA policy. For many of us, that means we might not be students anymore when our university finally adopts a policy. That’s exactly what happened for us.
In 2014, when we—then a law student and a library science grad student—founded an OA initiative at the University of Washington, we envisioned a student-led effort that we would see through to the end. We had lofty ideals of implementing a policy within months.
But when we graduated in 2016, despite the significant progress we had made, a policy was only barely in sight. The undergraduate, graduate, and faculty senates had all passed resolutions “committing to” OA, and we had even secured a mandate for a working group to investigate OA. While that was a promising start, plenty of work remained to be done. With graduation looming, we feared that all the momentum we had built throughout the university community would fade away before our university was able to adopt an official policy.
We could not have been more wrong. Instead, committed groups of faculty and librarians tirelessly followed through for years after we graduated. When we got the news in May that the University of Washington passed an OA policy, it marked the achievement of a goal over five years in the making. We had planted the roots, and as students, we had an important say in the ideas behind the policy. But in the end, the policy itself was appropriately driven by faculty and library staff.
Whether your time at university has just started or your graduation is coming up, you can take steps to make sure that your OA advocacy will have long-term impacts. Here are some that worked for us, and some that we would pursue in hindsight.
Secure a faculty champion(s)
Your greatest partner in building a resilient OA campaign is a faculty member who is just as passionate about OA as you are. This person will represent faculty interests, have a seat at faculty tables, and can help you navigate faculty concerns. As student organizers, we learned from our faculty champion how to be faculty members’ greatest supporters and assistants. This means balancing student energy and knowledge with their experience, expertise, and stake in the issue.
Pound the pavement at faculty councils
In addition to individuals to serve as faculty champions for your university’s OA initiative, seek out relevant faculty councils. A robust OA policy calls for support across all levels of the university, and faculty councils can be a critical bridge between student momentum and wider, more sustainable faculty engagement. We found solid, early support and input from our university’s Faculty Council on Research and Faculty Council on University Libraries.
Start with students
In addition to seeking support from different faculty groups, reach out to your fellow students! Some of our earliest tangible victories were resolutions in support of OA from our university’s undergraduate and graduate governing bodies: the ASUW (Associated Students of the University of Washington) and the GPSS (Graduate and Professional Student Senate). The GPSS and ASUW resolutions were critical backup as we brought OA up for official faculty consideration. Faculty care what students think.
Line up student successors
This is a step we were not able to accomplish before we graduated, and we regretted it. Avoid our mistake, and start early to seek out energetic students who can take your place leading OA efforts after you graduate. This could be students working on the OA initiative with you who have more time until they graduate, student government leaders and representatives, or even students who interact with OA issues in their academic work. Wherever they come from, prioritize keeping students “at the table” after you leave the university.
Make resources available to your university community.
While you are still a student, you can put together “evergreen” resources and information that will remain useful to OA leaders, critics, and otherwise at your university. We maintained a website for our initiative, complete with a timeline of our progress, an explanation of how OA would work at our university, and an exhaustive FAQ. We also brought together numerous, excellent external resources. In addition to helping us organize our thoughts, keep track of links, and respond to questions during our time at the initiative, it was also useful to others both before and after we graduated.
Leading an OA initiative at your university can be exhausting and discouraging. We ran into countless speed bumps along the way, from faculty members with fundamental objections, to procedural challenges, to administrative attempts to undermine the initiative. This is when it’s most important to keep the long game in mind. The work you are doing goes beyond you, beyond your time as a student, and even beyond your university. You are part of a larger movement of OA advocacy, and the work you are doing has immense value regardless of the eventual outcome. Don’t give up!