Discrepancies in the WSU graduate school’s thesis publication policy led one student to raise questions about the publishing process.
In April, former PhD student Heather Van Dyke noticed an inconsistency in the graduate school’s policy regarding the publication of student theses.
In order for her thesis to be published, Van Dyke said she is required to relinquish the copyrights to her work to UMI ProQuest, a third-party publishing company.
According to the wording in the policy, the standard publishing process does not require a fee. However, students are promised “several other publishing options that require a fee.”
When it came time to publish her thesis, however, Van Dyke said she was not offered “several” options, as the stated policy would suggest.
Instead, her only alternative to giving up the rights completely was to pay a $95 fee to UMI, which would grant the WSU libraries a copy of the published thesis. This would allow Van Dyke’s work to be openly accessible by WSU students.
After paying the $95 fee, Van Dyke said only WSU students can view published theses for free. She believes anyone should be able to access them, regardless of whether or not they are a WSU student.
“We’re a public institution,” she said. “Tax payers paid for me to get my PhD. [Theses] should be available not just to WSU students but to the United States, because this is a U.S. grant. And they’re not available.”
When asked about the discrepancy involving “several options” in the policy language, Dr. William Andrefsky, Jr., dean of the graduate school, admitted the terms were the result of an oversight which will be corrected in the future.
While he did not address the handling of Van Dyke’s concerns, Andrefsky refuted her claim that students were forced to hand over ownership rights of their work to UMI.
“The way we have it established now, we don’t relinquish our students’ rights to this intellectual property,” he said. “Students can take their own intellectual property, their own scholarship and convert it into a book, convert it into a series of articles … things like that.”
Andrefsky also said that he would be willing to consider other publishing options, if presented. He said the graduate school has not received suggestions about any alternatives.
However, in an email addressed to Debra Sellon, former associate dean of the graduate school, sent April 2, Van Dyke suggests a publication model which she believes to be an improvement over WSU’s.
Van Dyke pointed to Kansas State University, which also publishes theses through UMI. In her email, Van Dyke stated that theses published at KSU are automatically considered open access, and available to anyone.
Van Dyke believes this is the path WSU should take.
“There are millions of people in this country that paid for my thesis to happen,” she said. “Maybe they paid pennies, but I don’t care. They all should be able to read it.”
Van Dyke was displeased with the fact that students do not see these options until immediately before submitting their work, and said she felt blindsided. Stating the options upfront would allow students to easily understand their choices, Van Dyke believes.
“More graduate students need to find this out,” she said. “I think that’s why there’s nobody else complaining.”
Van Dyke contacted the graduate school in the hopes that someone could address her concerns. She said the administration disregarded her concerns, partially because nobody else seemed to share them.
“Of course nobody ever complains,” Van Dyke said. “They don’t have time to complain. By the time I was submitting my thesis, I had three hours left.”
Mathematics Professor Tom Asaki worked with Van Dyke and advised her to continue seeking assistance from the graduate school.
“At the very least, be up front and honest about all this stuff that’s going to happen,” Asaki said. “Don’t stick this to the students at the last minute. They have no other choice.”
Asaki said he was displeased with how Van Dyke’s concerns were handled. Over two months after originally asking questions, Van Dyke has yet to meet with the dean of the graduate school.
“If I were the dean, and I saw how badly my policy corresponded to what actually happened … I’d be calling a meeting,” he said. “What do the students really see that they need here? Let’s do something about this. Let’s change our policy.”
Ericka Christensen, former Graduate and Professional Student Association president, tried to talk with the graduate school on Van Dyke’s behalf, but said she had trouble having her voice heard.
Christensen said Andrefsky agreed to meet with her and Van Dyke, but cancelled the meeting upon learning of its expected topic.
“This only further added frustration,” Christensen said. “We just wanted a response.”
Christensen believes graduate students should be able to expect a professional answer when voicing apprehension.
“The publication process is a big deal,” she said. “Hearing people out and listening to their concerns is important.”