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Thursday, October 21, 2010

Global outreach through open access – bridging the knowledge divide

West Virginia University has a long tradition of supporting open access to scholarly communications. Of special significance is a prediction made in 1996 by Chief Jake Swamp of the Mohawk Nation at the West Virginia University Peace Tree Ceremony where he made a profound statement about open access.

“And by the year 2000, I predict that it’s going to arrive. People suddenly are going to understand the meaning of what they need to do.This means they are going to share information freely with one another. People who are now holding information to themselves[…] they’re going to give it all because other people are looking for that information so that something can be developed to heal our world.”

The prediction and ceremony are documented in the book (from Schein, Anna M., ed. White Pine Spirit of Peace: The WVU Peace Tree, 73).

True to his prediction, by 1998, WVU had become the second school in the world to have implemented an electronic thesis and dissertation (ETD) submission requirement. Over the following decade many other schools around the world followed WVU’s pioneering path to share research information freely.

In 2009, Chief Jake Swamp’s prediction served as a dedication to the “Global Outreach through Open Access Colloquium” segment of the International ETD2009 Conference co-sponsored by WVU. Presentations included major announcements including the Developing Nations Access Initiative hosted by JSTOR, the Open Science Directory hosted by UNESCO and the Library of Congress’ World Digital Library project.

Today many government agencies around the world, including the National Institute of Health have open access mandates for publicly funded research. Additionally many options are now available for scholars to publish in refereed open access journals and repositories.

Sadly, Chief Jake Swamp passed away this past Monday, October 18th at the age of 68. His spirit remains with us as we celebrate International Open Access Week.

Swamp was a diplomat, author, teacher, chief, husband, father, grandparent, great-grandparent and friend to many.He was a Mohawk sub-chief and ambassador of the Mohawk Nation of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) confederacy for more than 30 years in which he served as a counselor and spiritual leader.

In 1984, Swamp founded the Tree of Peace Society, which is based on the teachings of the Peacemaker and the formation of the Iroquois Confederacy. He traveled the world, sharing Haudenosaunee knowledge and planting white pine trees that symbolized universal peace.

Chief Jake Swamp’s prediction was indeed followed by global efforts towards advocating open access and healing this world. He has served as an inspiration along the long and winding journey in open access scholarly communications at WVU and beyond.

In honor of Chief Jake Swamp’s legacy and in commemoration of International Open Access Week, this dedication is declared on October 21st, 2010, day of the WVU Peace Tree Ceremony.

John H. Hagen
Manager, Institutional Repository Programs
West Virginia University Libraries


ETD2009 Welcome, Closing, Dedications and Conference Summary

Indian Country Today

Schein, Anna M., ed. White Pine Spirit of Peace: The WVU Peace Tree, 73.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Equality in the Mountain State - Economics and Fairness Drive Social Justice Reforms at Research Universities

In a recent meeting with senior level Human Resources representatives at West Virginia University, a revealing truth emerged that economic factors are largely driving the social justice reforms agenda at major research universities in the U.S., including at WVU. Recruiting and retention of top quality faculty, staff and students is negatively impacted when benefits packages offered to employees are not inclusive to accommodate flexible family situations for all employees. WVU administration is in support of the analysis, review, recommendation and implementation of policy reform to be more inclusive, thus more competitive.

Primarily for the sake of competition but also as an issue of basic fairness, most of WVU’s peer institutions have implemented or are in the process of implementing some form of benefits for other qualified sponsored adults, including chiefly among others, the provision of health care insurance for partners and family of all employees. The very heart of WVU’s research mission is at stake when discriminatory policies prohibit the extension of benefits to all employees and their families, regardless of marital or family status. Indeed, major multinational corporations with facilities located in West Virginia, for example, Toyota, already offer benefits for other qualified sponsored adults, even though neither state nor federal law requires it. It just makes good business sense to provide inclusive policies for employees.

People who are discriminated against include gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered couples and their children; unmarried heterosexual couples and their children as well as blood relatives (i.e. aging parent/child, siblings) or un-related friends living in domestic partnership situations. WVU cannot effectively recruit and retain quality faculty, staff or students when entire classes of people are effectively ruled out from inclusion of the full array of benefits programs offered to all other full-time employees.

Innumerable students, faculty and staff have turned down offers to go to school or to work at WVU simply because of these backward and discriminatory policies. Countless numbers of students, faculty and staff have given up hope and have left WVU for other institutions which provide more flexible benefits to all employees, regardless of their background.

WVU needs as much competitive advantage as possible, especially with the considerable number of employees expected to retire in the next five years. By 2012, 40% of WVU faculty will be eligible to retire. By 2014, 36% of the entire WVU campus will be eligible to retire. This presents a tremendous challenge of crisis proportion to replace outgoing faculty and staff with top quality talent, particularly when benefits are not equal among all players.

Without a level playing field to offer all employees in a benefits package, WVU loses out on recruiting many of the most talented faculty and staff. The current discriminatory policy is demoralizing, arcane and unethical. The situation is perceived by many people outside the state as backwards and bigoted. It is an irrational policy which is not in keeping with current accepted practices in academia. Moreover, most Fortune 500 companies offer the industry standard of equal family benefits for all employees, regardless of marital or family status. Total costs to the employer are negligible, typically less than 1% of the entire health care budget for the institution. WVU needs to conform to current employment standards, policies and practices or it will fall further behind in prominence as a major research institution.

The situation in West Virginia is complicated due to state law, a monopolistic health care environment, and lack of political will by government and industry officials to pursue reforms. PEIA (Public Employees Insurance Agency), the sole state-run health insurance provider says it cannot provide benefits outside of current state law. State law requires provision of health care by government agencies, prohibits the extension of benefits to unmarried partners and defines marriage as between one man and one woman. Those of us and our families who do not fit into this exclusive box are caught in a veritable catch-22 loop with these kinds of restrictive policies.

However, other options may exist for institutions like WVU to seek competitive bids from health insurance providers other than PEIA. In a growing trend, other county governments, most recently,
Upshur County, have elected to go with a private health care insurance provider, due to frustrations over cost, lack of accountability and lack of options offered by PEIA coverage. The county will save over $500,000 annually.

It is estimated that annually PEIA takes in $20 million in excess revenues from WVU contributions, the value of which current WVU employees do not receive back in actual health care benefits. Further, the current policy for salary-based incremental health care cost determination method is uncommon, regressive and unfair to all employees, especially those at either end of the spectrum. WVU’s share in contributions actually subsidizes the health insurance costs for many of the smaller state-wide government agency’s participants as well as funding the growing retiree health insurance benefits pool, at a tremendous cost in lost benefits and lower costs owed to WVU employees.

If PEIA is serious about retaining WVU as its largest customer, they will either wake up and smell the coffee and walk the path of reform or be left on their own. They are welcome to provide inadequate, overpriced health insurance for the rest of the state agencies minus WVU’s contribution, but the WVU community is fed up with being treated with such blatant disregard.

Already the WVU administration is preparing to roll out so called “soft benefits” for partners and families of employees, including library privileges and recreation center family discounts. In addition, the recent implementation of the “dual careers” program which provides support for employment for employee’s spouses and partners is also a step forward. However, without inclusion of equal “hard benefits” such as flexible health insurance coverage, it is simply not enough.

In other related developments, the WVU Faculty Senate is presently hammering out final touches to a forthcoming resolution to include benefits for other qualified sponsored adults. The WVU Staff Council has also placed benefits for other sponsored adults as a top item on their legislative agenda.
WVU Common Ground, an LGBTQ and allies faculty and staff networking group is gaining momentum, providing support and engaging discussion among all WVU employees.

At the federal level, ENDA legislation may be forthcoming this year. The national non-profit advocacy group, the
Human Rights Campaign is involved in promoting these and other federal reforms. At the state level, Fairness WV, the LGBT non-profit advocacy group is pushing for similar legislative reform to end discrimination against LGBT people in employment as well as housing. This legislation further embraces the idea of equal rights and benefits for all employees and their families.

Also on the national scene over the past year have been the contentious debates and ultimate legislation on health care reform in this country. As we have seen, this is not an issue unique to West Virginia or WVU. Monopolistic conditions and policies unfair to policy holders have created this inequality. As Americans and West Virginians, we all deserve and we should demand the best health care possible at the most affordable price and demand the same benefits are offered to all employees and their families.

Coordination in this effort will be key to the movement’s success - it appears that the stars are aligning in all the right places. That is not to say it will be an easy fight, but then the struggle for equality has always been a difficult yet worthy task. Fifteen years ago WVU almost achieved this gain, but the movement was well ahead of it’s time. We live in different times today, yet still outside of Morgantown, particularly in Charleston, there is much resistance to change. We must keep in mind the larger perspective and keep our eye on the prize throughout the process.

Thus, with economic and ethical considerations steering the path, wrapped up in this package for reform at WVU will be the provision of equal and flexible benefits for all employees, regardless of family situation. Indeed, in the larger business world, the very definition of “family” has evolved and policies have been adapted for nearly a decade now. If WVU can achieve some level of autonomy to do what makes best business sense for the institution, this may serve as a model for other state institutions and ultimately as an agent for change leading to legislative reform to make the state of West Virginia more competitive by following accepted industry HR norms and standards.

In the name of sound business practice and fairness, change is forthcoming. As I had predicted many years ago, the social justice agenda would not be reformed until it could be defined in terms of economic benefit and cost. Economics has now become the impetus to create the critical mass of a new common understanding for social reform. The issue of fairness also plays a role as widespread business ethics practices have increasingly made accommodations by offering a more flexible set of benefits to all employees because it is the right thing to do.

Reform will happen. It is no longer a matter of “if”, but “when”. At this critical juncture, it is imperative that we all contribute our personal stories and collective voices to this movement towards change. I implore you, dear reader, to engage yourself, to get involved, get your friends involved, and to be part of the making of history. We can no longer remain silent or complacent. This is one major step towards true equality for all. Won’t you
join us now?

Monday, April 19, 2010

The jig is up – Morgantown WV says “repeal don’t ask, don’t tell”

Morgantown, West Virginia rocked the night away the evening of April 17th for the “Repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” campaign at Vice Versa Club’s annual Military Ball. Hundreds of locals gathered to sign postcards for Senator Byrd and other elected officials to ask them to repeal DADT. I was on hand representing Fairness WV to promote the cause. The Human Rights Campaign and ServiceMembers United are sponsoring the national campaign.

The diverse crowd was very receptive to the repeal DADT cause. Supporters included people of all backgrounds, ages, races, current and former veterans, straights, gays, lesbians and transgendered folk. It was a veritable cornucopia of queer fans!

Incentives to participate included signing a postcard to Senator Byrd and other elected officials to receive a "repeal DADT" badge and dog tag. Postcard signers were entered into a t-shirt raffle for later that evening.

There were a number of interesting encounters with participants throughout the night, and some unexpected surprises.

For starters, I recruited Michael “Brandon” Clark to be our advocate for the evening. Clark, AKA “Samuel Colt” the notable dancer when not at his day job, is a retired Army veteran from California. Clark shared a story about when he was a 4-year ROTC scholarship winner in college and he was asked to resign after participating in a campus gay/straight student group. He went on to serve his country proudly but silently for the next decade.

Another ally, we'll call her "Mary", from West Virginia, is presently serving in the Army Reserves. She admitted that her Recruiter and in fact her entire unit knows she is openly a lesbian yet it has made no difference to anyone. They trust and know her for the fine soldier she is. Mary is scheduled to deploy in May.

Although there were no hecklers in the crowd, I was approached by Marine Vet who was concerned that if DADT were repealed then in his view many currently serving military men would have a problem with that. Further he asked “What would prevent a homophobic soldier from pulling the trigger on ‘the gay guy’?”

I couldn’t believe I was hearing this, especially from an allegedly straight guy in a gay bar in a public setting (AKA closeted gay wolf homophobe in seemingly sympathetic sheep’s clothing). I was appalled, but quickly jumped to my senses.

I responded, “Yeah, right, what if instead of ‘the gay guy’, the minority was black or female?” Did anyone ever get shot with the integration of women or blacks into the military? I think not! So why should sexual orientation be any different? It’s no one’s business, period. But wait, there’s more. Unit cohesion is best when no one has to lie and everyone can trust each other without question. That is the most honest, rational and sane approach. DADT just reinforces distrust and promotes divisiveness among the ranks, thus puts troops at risk.”

The ex-Marine couldn’t say anything except “Well, I’m just saying…”, and he left with a cordial handshake. Such is the hard work of changing minds.

Between dance sets, I raffled off Repeal DADT t-shirts by drawing from postcard signers. I explained to the audience that Senator Byrd and all of our elected officials will be hearing from us. Fairness WV and HRC representatives will deliver these personal messages form constituents by the truckload to elected officials on Veteran’s Lobby Day, May 11th. "Your voices will be heard!”, I shouted. The crowd went wild with enthusiastic cheers to repeal DADT.

The next and final repeal DADT event in Morgantown will be a "Voices of
Honor" Panel Discussion to be held Saturday, April 24th at the WVU Law Center.

Photos on Facebook