College of Liberal Arts

Dissertation Embargo

Thu, Oct 1, 2015

An August 17, 2015 memorandum from Marvin L. Hackert, Dean of Graduate Studies, ad interim, states the following in reference to legislation by the Graduate Assembly: “Legislation was approved to revise the Graduate School embargo policy to allow graduate students to request up to a two-year delay in making their master’s reports, theses and doctoral dissertations available to the public in order to protect patent or other rights. The embargo selection is subject to the policies of the funding agency supporting the research and must be approved by the faculty supervisor and graduate dean. An alumna/us or faculty supervisor can request an exception to have an embargo extended beyond two years. The graduate dean makes the final decision regarding delayed publication.” The legislation is effective as of fall 2015.

The Graduate Assembly conducted an in depth study of the use of the dissertation embargo among graduate students at UT and considered the reasons for this practice across disciplines. A new policy will take effect in Fall 2015, which will include options of no embargo and two year embargo, with the option to renew after two years.

The College of Liberal Arts Office of Research and Graduate Studies posted the following statement on mandatory electronic publication of dissertations in Summer 2013:

Statement of Support for the Option to Embargo Electronic Publication of Completed Dissertations

Embargoing a dissertation, as written into University of Texas at Austin regulations, should have at its core the personal choice of dissertation authors as a statement of respect for their intellectual property rights and of the value the University assigns to their scholarship. We support offering new Ph.D.s the option to embargo their dissertation for a time period that best fits their publication plans and career trajectories.  Furthermore, we are committed to educating our graduate students about their options and engaging all sides of the current debate on the dissertation embargo.

We are committed to the success of our graduates beyond initial placement and into their careers.  The embargo option allows graduates to grant access to their work at the time that is most advantageous to them, which is especially important for graduates in tenure-track positions at research universities.  As long as a monograph published by a university press remains the key to tenure in research universities, and as long as some university presses will not consider monographs that are in some way associated with a dissertation that is available online, the embargo option remains relevant and, in some cases, vital.

Our goal is to empower dissertation authors to make informed decisions when it comes to their work. Education and choice are keys to their success at this pivotal point in their careers.  The technologies of online publication and access, coupled with the ever-increasing demand and consumption of online scholarship, require ongoing monitoring and adjustment of practices, and we will work with all actors involved in the debate as we prepare our doctoral students to handle this aspect of their career development.

The American Historical Association has issued a statement in support of the option for dissertation authors to embargo online publication for up to six years. The announcement generated a heated debate, and the Association is keeping the conversation alive on its Q&A page. We join the AHA in supporting the option for authors to control access to their completed dissertations.

Some working notes, to be updated as our work on this project develops:

  • A 2011 survey of university press directors’ attitudes toward electronic theses and dissertations (ETDs), often quoted in arguments for eliminating the embargo option, found that manuscripts that are revisions of openly accessible ETDs are always welcome for submission or considered on a case by case basis by 53.7% of university press directors polled.  The flip side is that 46.3% of the directors polled do not welcome ETDs, and those who may consider them do it primarily on a case-by-case basis—for scholars in the humanities and social sciences who publish in areas that rely on specialized series or unique press interests, this is particularly critical.
  • A preliminary study of 29 dissertations in the humanities and social sciences that are available online through The University of Texas Digital Repository (UTDR) found 466 views on the average of the full PDF documents of dissertations in the humanities and 193 views of a dissertation in the social sciences.  While the purposes of such views differ, they clearly indicate that scholarly work written into dissertations is relevant to the dynamics of scholarship in our fields.  Dissertations are not written for a supervisor or the student’s committee as their only audience, as has often been suggested.  This is at once an argument for the great exposure benefits and knowledge sharing that ETDs provide, and a note of caution about the need to protect the interests of dissertation authors.
  • A survey by Professor Jeffrey Meikle of monographs published by fourteen graduates of our American Studies program found that on the average it took five years from graduation to the publication of a monograph.
  • We have been following the conversations happening in librarianship around acquisition practices and application of the terms "revised" and "published" to dissertations and their evolution into first books. As we work with our graduate students, we will engage the University community in an attempt to tease out some of these complexities and allow for better understanding of the stakes involved in formulating the University policy re the dissertation embargo.
  • The Office of Research and Graduate Studies frequently compares its policies with those of 23 peer institutions that we have identified as our main competitors for recruiting graduate students. At all of these peer institutions, without exception, new Ph.D.s have the option to embargo online publication of completed dissertations for a period of time ranging from six months to two years, with varying renewal options. We also consulted the policy of Proquest Dissertation Publishing, which adheres to the policies specific to each institution and provides a chart of considerations and recommended actions for new Ph.D.s:
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