Open statement: Why UC cut ties with Elsevier

March 20, 2019

The University of California has taken a firm stand on both open access to publicly funded research and fiscal responsibility by deciding not to renew its subscriptions with Elsevier, the world’s largest scientific publisher. Here’s why:

Under Elsevier’s proposed terms, the publisher would capture significant new revenue on top of the university’s current multimillion-dollar subscription while significantly diminishing UC’s rights to Elsevier content. Elsevier’s latest proposal did consider some of UC’s conditions, including providing UC authors with open access publishing options across much of the publisher’s portfolio of journals. However, it had serious flaws.

• Higher costs: Elsevier’s proposal would have imposed much higher costs on the university as a whole. Elsevier’s revenue would have increased by $30 million (an 80 percent increase in total payments) if all current UC authors were to take advantage of the open access option over the life of the three-year contract. UC is committed to cost-neutrality in the transition to open access.

• Reduced rights: The proposal would have required UC to forgo perpetual access to a significant number of Elsevier journals.  

• Limitations on institutional support for authors: The proposal did not enable UC to provide financial support to authors who lack access to grant funds. UC is committed to supporting all UC authors who wish to publish open access.

• Excluded journals: Elsevier’s terms would have precluded open access publishing in some high-profile Elsevier journals, such as those from Cell Press and The Lancet, and some society journals. The university is committed to making the work of all UC authors freely available.

The foundation for UC’s proposal grew out of the long history of support for open access that originated with the Academic Senate, including the Systemwide Open Access Policy and the Principles to Transform Scholarly Communication. And support for UC’s position continues, including through a recent statement delivered to the UC Regents. UC’s goal has been to transition the university’s expenditures from subscriptions to open access publishing in a way that would make open access available, by default, to all UC authors in a cost-effective way.  

What’s next

UC is prepared to return to the negotiating table at a future point if and when we perceive an opportunity for substantive progress. In the meantime, we look forward to further engagement with our UC community of authors and editors about the future shape of research dissemination at UC and elsewhere.

We welcome your additional comments and questions about this issue (including inquiry on alternative access to Elsevier articles). Please also feel free to contact your campus library with any questions you may have.


The UC-Elsevier Negotiating Team

Ivy Anderson (Co-Chair)
Associate Executive Director
California Digital Library

Jeffrey MacKie-Mason (Co-Chair)
University Librarian
Professor, School of Information and Professor of Economics
UC Berkeley

Günter Waibel
Associate Vice Provost and Executive Director
California Digital Library

Richard A. Schneider
Associate Professor, Orthopaedic Surgery
UC San Francisco
Chair, Academic Senate University Committee on Library and Scholarly Communication

Dennis J. Ventry, Jr.
Professor of Law
UC Davis
Vice Chair, Academic Senate University Committee on Library and Scholarly Communication

Mihoko Hosoi
Assistant Director for Systemwide Licensing
California Digital Library