Students, faculty support decision to remove paywalls from publicly funded research

Joelle DiPaolo, Senior news reporter

Publicly funded research should be rid of paywalls by 2026, according to an Aug. 25 memorandum from the White House, which requires federal agencies to make all public research accessible.  

The decision followed a 2013 executive memo that required agencies with more than $100 million in research to develop a plan to make their research accessible. The current guidance now removes the optional 12-month delay of open-access publication and requires all federal agencies to work on implementing policies for full accessibility. Removing paywalls will increase collaboration and benefit university researchers, said Lorraine Haricombe, vice provost and director of University libraries. 

“Having research and that underlying data as openly accessible to others will only accelerate innovation and discovery,” Haricombe said. “(This) is trying to break down those barriers to accessibility of research.” 

The libraries spend about half of their $30 million budget on providing students access to research; however, students and faculty producing research sometimes still have to pay fees to publish on open-access websites, Haricombe said. 

Robert Reichle, the director of the Office of Undergraduate Research, said these fees can cost thousands of dollars.  

“It’s not viable,” Reichle said. “It can deter people from a lot of different backgrounds. It can deter people from all stages of their careers.” 

About 60% of undergraduate students are involved in research, of which about 150 students are involved in the publishing process, Reichle said. He said many students start their research journey in undergraduate publications like the Texas Undergraduate Research Journal, an annual publication that produces student research from different fields. 

Ashley Hoffman, president of the journal, said its open-access status helps involve students in research. 

“It being open access is really important because we feel like research is something that you should be able to pursue at any time that you want,” said biology senior Hoffman. 

Haricombe said the library is investing in open-access publications so researchers themselves do not need to pay fees. In addition, librarians and some faculty publish their material to Texas ScholarWorks, a repository of open-access research from the University, which currently holds 100,000 items in the database.

Haricombe said removing paywalls will bring more recognition to faculty members and the University.

“Their research will be cited more in other research publications and this reputation for the scientists is reputation for the University,” Haricombe said. “Citation impact is huge for promotion and tenure.” 

Researchers will conduct work more methodically with more free access to other research, Reichle said. 

“It’s great in the sense that it’s disseminating knowledge,” Reichle said. “It will force everyone to acknowledge research as a public good. … (The) public (funds) the research initially and then the public gets to see the results of the work.” 

Hoffman said the pandemic highlighted the use of public research and increased a want for knowledge that research can fulfill. 

“Taking out the paywall opens up a lot of opportunities just for people to become more educated and feel like they’re welcome to ask questions about science or just research in general. (They) feel like they can participate too,” Hoffman said.