Envisioning the Academy’s Digital Future

Earlier this week I was lucky enough to attend a fantastic symposium: The Digital University: Power Relations, Publishing, Authority and Community in the 21st Century Academy, held at the CUNY Graduate Center here in New York City. The day was chock full of presentations and conversations on the implications of digital technologies on teaching, learning, research, and scholarship. Academic and research libraries featured prominently in discussions throughout the conference.

The day began with four small workshops each organized around a specific theme relevant to digital scholarship. Deciding which workshop to attend was a tough choice, one that, judging from the Twitter stream (hashtag #du10), many of us were torn over; I chose the Academic Publishing workshop. There was a diverse group of academic publishers, faculty, librarians, and graduate students which made for an interesting and lively conversation.

Not surprisingly, we spent most of our workshop discussing the crisis in scholarly publishing (both journals and monographs). While there’s an enormous amount of money in the academy allocated towards scholarly publishing, it’s primarily spent on scholarly journals published by commercial publishers rather than academic presses (which are under extreme economic pressure) or open access journals. Workshop participants agreed that the entire community of stakeholders must come together to address these issues, including academic administrators, who often seem absent from these discussions. On a positive note, while scholarly publishing has been slow to adapt to digital technologies, many suggested that the current economic situation may begin to speed collaboration and change.

Academic authority was another recurring theme of the conference, and especially the implications of digital scholarship for the tenure and promotion process. Faculty participants in the two afternoon panels discussed their own efforts in pushing for change in “what counts” for tenure, though that may be perceived as risky for junior scholars. Of course the scholarly publishing crisis and academic authority issues are intimately related, and as they evolve will likely continue to influence each other. Many also pointed out that the more open and accessible our scholarship is, the more widely it can be seen and read, which has ethical and moral implications as well, especially for federally-funded research.

It was great to see academic and research libraries so well-represented at this symposium. There was a lot of love for what we do and how important we are to the future of the academy, which for me was a nice counterpoint to the recent Ithaka Faculty Study. I sometimes feel that while librarians talk a lot about open access and related issues, it can be hard to gauge how much they resonate with faculty in other departments. While the symposium attendees were a self-selected group of academics interested in digital technology, it’s heartening to see so many faculty and graduate students who do embrace open access to research and scholarship, and who are interested in pushing these boundaries in their own scholarly work.