Theses and Google Print
Many of you likely received this email from Kembrew McLeod via Thisbe, but if not, here you go. If you would like to oppose this project (which does sound rather dodgy) email him ASAP at kembrew at kembrew dot com.
Short version: graduating MFA students must sign a release form in order to graduate - this form says that their theses will be posted in full online.
(Apologies for the formatting - I deleted a couple of other people's names in case they didn't want them out on the global interwebs)
Apparently, the U of Iowa has entered into a deal whereby MFA writing theses will be placed online, in full, as content fodder for Google's ad-driven Print project. You know my positions on copyright and open flows of information, but this policy -- which requires students to sign off on this if they want to graduate -- seems really misguided.
There is a meeting about the policy this Friday, March 14, and I'm trying to gather opinions about this plan from other writers, so I thought I would check to see how you would feel about this, if you were a student. Also, feel free to pass along this email to any other concerned>> writers; tell them they can email me their opinions -- kembrew at kembrew dot com -- by Thursday, March 13.
I'll include an email I have written to the person who is representing the MFA students in the meeting on Friday, in case you want more background:
[Name of person representing MFA students],
After doing research on this issue over the weekend and informally polling several writers, editors, agents, UI writing program alums, and copyright experts I know, I can unequivocally say that this has to be one of the most poorly thought out, misguided, and perhaps truly stupid and irresponsible policies this university has attempted to ram down down our throats. (Where's the transparency? The clause just magically appeared on the deposit forms? Amazing!) I urge you to convey these sentiments to [the dean] in your meeting on Friday, because this policy cannot stand, particularly for MFA theses. Here is why: I think students who write creative theses (or translation works, and probably other kinds of writing that need to be considered) should have the option to withhold their work from an open access, online form of distribution -- though they should of course continue to be published as hard copies with the libraries.
On one hand, having a scholarly thesis or dissertation available more widely is a win-win for everyone -- the scholar who gets quoted, those who stumble across a dissertation on a topic they are researching, etc. On the other hand, I think creative work is qualitatively different. I can understand why some wouldn't want that work circulating widely and easily, for either artistic or economic reasons. That is because we are talking about different worlds -- the economies and professional norms of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, journalism, essay writing, academic writing, and other genres are all quite different -- so I can see why students (and faculty) are uncomfortable (or angry) about this. They can't all be lumped together with a uniform university publishing policy. You know my positions on copyright and the importance of free flows of information, but I also understand why some writers would want to keep control of their texts, because in many instances, theses aren't really considered completed works in certain fields. It's more of a process. God knows, I wouldn't want some of my grad school essays and papers being published, or my senior undergrad honors thesis published widely. When I was a student I saw this sort of writing as more of a fulfillment of the degree, and a learning process, rather than a publishing contract. Inversely, there are instances when a MF (or translation) thesis may in fact be the final product, more or less, and I can also understand why they do not want that work published in this way.
Speaking to this concern, I talked to my literary agent about this yesterday, one who represents both marginal academics and well-known authors, and who has been in publishing since 1972. Her first reaction was that this mode of distribution would be a cause for concern for some book editors, and might cause them to pass on a manuscript. It's not like she's wing-nut RIAA copyright lawyer; she supported me in getting Random House to distribute a free pdf copy of my entire book, Freedom of Expression. However, that was a decision I made on my own, because it worked for me. I'd hate to see a blanket policy imposed on other writers.
Anyway, it's not as if any student attending the University of Iowa has entered into a publishing contract with the school, so why does the university have the right to publish their work and use it as content fodder for Google's ad-driven Print project? Especially when students are paying UI tuition! As a labor issue, this is totally unfair and exploitative.
I'll be forwarding you some outraged emails from UI alums and nationally known writers, as well as one from a copyright expert, who is also known for his championing of libraries and open flows of information. [He] feels this policy is "alarming," as he put it, while responses from other writers contain four-letter words that probably shouldn't be included in an official university email or memo. I'm also passing along [another person's] endorsement of the NWP students' opposition to this plan.