Electronic PhD Thesis Submission sign now

This open letter concerns the move from print only submission of SOAS PhD theses to combined print and electronic submission. The purpose of this letter is two-fold. First, we the undersigned wish to draw the attention of research students and academic staff at SOAS to an issue that we believe is of great significance for the academic life of the School. Second, by circulating this letter we hope to gather further endorsement and statements of support from the academic community in favour of our position, which is that PhD students should have the right to an unconditional opt-out from the form of electronic submission that is being proposed, extendable for as long as the student deems necessary and without the need for the student to present the case for their decision to opt-out. We invite you to add your name to this open letter by signing this online petition.

In July, SOAS PhD students received an email from Beth Clark (Head of Electronic Services in SOAS library) announcing the move. Of particular concern in her email is the statement that From 1st October 2010 onwards the electronic (e-) copy of the thesis will be made freely available on the web via SOAS Research Online (https://eprints.soas.ac.uk, an online repository that hosts SOAS research outputs). In response to concerns raised by PhD students through the SOAS Research Students Society, Marcus Cearney (Postgraduate Research Manager) and Beth Clark met with PhD students on 6 October to discuss the move, and explained that while the details of the move have not been finalised, it is likely that provision will be made for students to present their case if they believe their thesis should not be put online. At some point since August, the PhD Examination Entry form on the SOAS website (http://www.soas.ac.uk/registry/pgresearch/examprocedures/) was modified. While prior to 1 October 2010 the form had been a single page asking for title and abstract of the thesis plus signatures of student and supervisor, on 1 October 2010 the form added a second page asking students to sign a declaration containing a number of elements. For our purposes here the relevant sections are the statement at the beginning that A thesis which is accepted for the award of a research degree is placed in the Library of the School and in the Senate House Library, and an electronic copy may be placed in an open access institutional e-repository, and the statement lower down that I authorise the School and the University of London Libraries, or their designated agents, to make a microform or digital copy of my thesis for the purposes of electronic public access, inter-library loan or the supply of copies.

As we understand it, these statements mean that the availability of theses is moving from a hard copy held at SOAS and available to visitors to a soft copy available online at the click of a button, a move that, we contend, has far-reaching consequences and has been presented as a fait accompli. Although a number of concerns with this move have been raised (see for example those articulated on http://soasresearchstudentforum.wordpress.com), this letter limits its focus to two which we believe are sufficient to indicate why PhD students should have the right to an unconditional opt-out.

Our first concern is that this move creates a major problem of research ethics, particularly for PhD students who have conducted field research. An anthropology PhD student, for example, is likely to have negotiated access to the subjects of his/her research on the basis of an explanation that his/her thesis will be available only at SOAS and will have a limited readership. Research subjects are likely to have taken this into account when deciding what to tell the student. Returning from the field, the student decides what information to include and exclude from his/her thesis on the basis of how accessible the thesis will be. If the move to electronic submission is made compulsory, the student through no fault of his/her own is unable to limit accessibility in the way s/he told his/her research informants that s/he would do. This is a particular problem for students nearing the end of writing-up research on sensitive topics, who now find themselves faced with a choice of either rewriting their thesis on the basis that it will now be available online, or risking harm to their informants and/or charges of libel. A thesis that gathers dust in the SOAS library is far less likely to invite libel charges than a thesis available online. If a SOAS PhD student is charged with libel by someone who reads their thesis online, will SOAS bear the legal cost?

Giving students the opportunity to present their case if they believe their thesis should not be put online is not an adequate response to this problem, because it still does not place the power to judge the case in the hands of the student, and the student is the best judge of their own case because at the time they complete their thesis they are the number one expert in the world on the specific topic they have written a PhD thesis on. We believe that while PhD students have an ethical duty to disseminate their research findings widely, this comes second to their duty to protect the subjects of their research. PhD students want to disseminate their research findings, but they must be able to decide the way in which they do so. The purpose of their PhD thesis is to pass the examination, and it is through conference papers, publications etc. produced from the material in the thesis that their research findings are disseminated in a form that protects the subjects of their research.

Our second concern is that it appears that SOAS has no legal right to make this move. The following points demonstrate this in different ways:

1. In the meeting on 6 October Marcus Cearney explained that SOAS has the legal right to make this move because SOAS PhD students must follow the rules set out in the University of London Handbook (Regulations for the Degrees of MPhil and PhD, with effect from September 2007), and these rules dictate that when submitting their thesis students must sign a declaration that enables this move. However, we fail to see how the declaration in the 2007 Regulations (see the relevant paragraphs of Article 6.2, reproduced at the end of this letter) commits us to having our thesis made freely available on the web.

2. There is a discrepancy between the declaration in the 2007 Regulations and the declaration on the Examination Entry form: while the former states that a copy may be placed in an electronic institutional repository, the latter reformulates this as open access institutional e-repository. Why should the declaration we sign differ from that of the Regulations?

3. All PhD students are required to submit an Examination Entry form at the end of their PhD. However, not all PhD students are obliged to follow the 2007 Regulations because some started earlier. This is not mentioned on the Examination Entry form, which simply states that any student submitting the form must sign the declaration. But the discrepancy between the declaration in the 2006 Regulations and the declaration on the Examination Entry form is even greater than the discrepancy between the 2007 Regulations and the form (noted above). Most significantly, while the 2006 Regulations enable the making of a microform or digital copy of my thesis for the purposes of inter-library loan and the supply of copies, the form enables a microform or digital copy of my thesis for the purposes of electronic public access, inter-library loan or the supply of copies. Why should students who began in 2006 or earlier sign the current Examination Entry form?

We the undersigned are concerned that the move to electronic submission in SOAS has been presented as a fait accompli, has not been transparent and seems to have been brought in incredibly fast. Beth Clarks email in July was the first indication to PhD students that this move was taking place in less than 3 months time, and many academics at SOAS are completely unaware of this move. Beth Clarks email invited PhD students to complete a survey, designed to capture their concerns about a move that would take place regardless of these concerns. At no point was a consultation meeting offered, and in the meeting on 6 October arranged by the Research Students Society, not SOAS Marcus Cearney emphasised that PhD students were being offered the chance to ask for clarification rather than the chance to participate in negotiations surrounding this move. Why was this move initiated during summer, a period in which many PhD students and academics are out of London? Why was it not deemed appropriate to offer PhD students a chance to participate in decisions that have such far-reaching consequences for them and their research subjects?

We the undersigned take the position that PhD students have a right to choose electronic submission rather than an obligation to do so. We expect that SOAS will take the points made here into consideration when deciding if or how to implement the move to electronic submission, given that this move has major ethical implications for PhD students and their research subjects, and given that the legal basis for the move appears to be questionable.


From the University of London Handbook (Regulations for the Degrees of MPhil and PhD, with effect from September 2007):

6.2. Subject to paragraph 6.3 below, candidates for the MPhil and PhD degrees will at the time of entry to the examination be required to sign a declaration in the following terms:

(a) I authorise that the thesis presented by me in [year] for examination for the MPhil/PhD degree of the University of London shall, if a degree is awarded, be deposited in the library or electronic institutional repository of the appropriate College and in Senate House Library and that, subject to the conditions set out in paragraph 6.2(d) below, my thesis be made available for public reference, inter-library loan and copying.

[...]

(c) I authorise the College and the University of London Libraries or their designated agents to make a microform or digital copy of my thesis for the purposes of electronic public access, inter-library loan and the supply of copies.

(d) I understand that before my thesis is made available for public reference, interlibrary loan and copying, the following statement will have been included at the beginning of my thesis or clearly associated with any electronic version: The copyright of this thesis rests with the author and no quotation from it or information derived from it may be published without the prior written consent of the author.

(e) I authorise the College and/or the University of London to make a microform or digital copy of my thesis in due course as the archival copy for permanent retention in substitution for the original copy.

[...]

Sign The Petition

Sign with Facebook
OR

If you already have an account please sign in, otherwise register an account for free then sign the petition filling the fields below.
Email and the password will be your account data, you will be able to sign other petitions after logging in.

Privacy in the search engines? You can use a nickname:

Attention, the email address you supply must be valid in order to validate the signature, otherwise it will be deleted.

I confirm registration and I agree to Usage and Limitations of Services

I confirm that I have read the Privacy Policy

I agree to the Personal Data Processing

Shoutbox

Who signed this petition saw these petitions too:

Sign The Petition

Sign with Facebook
OR

If you already have an account please sign in

Comment

I confirm registration and I agree to Usage and Limitations of Services

I confirm that I have read the Privacy Policy

I agree to the Personal Data Processing

Goal
0 / 50

Latest Signatures

No one has signed this petition yet

Information

Tags

No tags

Share

Invite friends from your address book

Embed Codes

direct link

link for html

link for forum without title

link for forum with title

Widgets