I also attended the North Carolina Serials Conference last month. Since several other ZSR bloggers have already reported, I will focus on two ideas put forward during a late-morning plenary session, which featured David Crotty again.
Crotty remarked that the paper announcing the cure is not as important as the actual cure. We might make the paper available via Open Access while the cure itself (say, a drug) might be protected by patent law.
Crotty also asserted that, contrary to popular belief, Humanities often runs at a profit while Physical Science runs a deficit within a university budget. He claimed that’s because a lot of tuition money is paid by Humanities majors, which subsidizes expensive lab space in Physical Science. (I’m carefully noting that he didn’t say Life Sciences, which probably attracts the most grant money of all and is also a popular undergraduate major.) He cited a recent NPR story about Duke that focused on where all the money goes. I listened to that story today, but didn’t hear the same interdepartmental subsidy message that Crotty asserted. So, I don’t know if he cited some other evidence for his claim (that I didn’t write down) or what. Nevertheless, I would be very interested in whether this is true at Wake Forest or not. I have often thought about this issue on a smaller scale when we allocate the collections budget. Even if you just look within a broad discipline group like Humanities, it appears that larger, more popular majors subsidize smaller ones. I have two defenses to offer. The first is that Demand Driven Acquisition serves as a correction to this tendency. The second is that a certain amount of inter-departmental subsidizing is necessary. Students are attracted to Wake Forest because they like the idea that they have over 40 choices for their major. Once they actually get here, over half of the students cluster in a just a few majors. However, many students would not choose WFU at all if we only offered, say, ten majors. Crotty’s broader point, and the point of the NPR story, is to ask whether it’s a good idea for student tuition dollars to go towards research, especially when the tuition comes in the form of a loan that must be repaid with interest.