Logo for Elsevier, a scientific and medical journal publisher. SUNY is negotiating a contract renewal with the publisher, as the system’s current contract approaches expiration on Dec. 31. PUBLIC DOMAIN

SUNY is negotiating a contract renewal with Elsevier, a scientific and medical journal publisher, according to an email sent to Stony Brook University’s Faculty Senate on Thursday, Nov. 21.

The SUNY University Faculty Senate passed a resolution in October resolving to “reach a fair and reasonable agreement on a new contract” as the state school system’s current contract approaches expiration on Dec. 31. The school system has already gone through two formal cycles of proposals with Elsevier, according to Heath Martin, associate dean of collection strategy and management, at a Nov. 4 Stony Brook University Faculty Senate meeting.

The company tried “to sell [SUNY] on three 4% increases annually,” but that “trajectory that we’re on vastly outpaces our budgetary means,” he said.

The second negotiation was “better,” and warranted “serious discussion” from negotiators, according to Martin. As of Nov. 4, SUNY was preparing a “very aggressive” counterproposal.

SUNY paid more than $9 million for access to Science Direct last year, totaling nearly $45 million over the life of the contract. SUNY’s Elsevier subscription makes up 25% of the school system’s total spending on journals. Stony Brook University (SBU) and Buffalo University are sharing about 50% of that cost, according to Interim Dean of Stony Brook Libraries, Shafeek Fazal, at the Nov. 4 meeting.

Stony Brook is also the highest user of Elvesier, he said, with about 890,000 downloads. 

“Elsevier has failed to expeditiously engage in the SUNY Science Direct contract negotiation process and, if the contract is not extended, the SUNY community will no longer have unlimited access to Elsevier’s collection,” the resolution read. “SUNY negotiators are extremely concerned that the failure to resolve the contract negotiation impasse with Elsevier will lead to the same situation as occurred with the UC [University of California] system and the European universities, namely, that the contract will lapse on December 31, 2019.”

The UC system started boycotting Elsevier in February after contract renewal negotiations broke down when the company refused to make UC research free to the public and attempted to charge additional publishing fees on top of an already multi-million dollar subscription.

“Knowledge should not be accessible only to those who can pay,” Robert May, chair of UC’s faculty Academic Senate, said in a press release. “The quest for full open access is essential if we are to truly uphold the mission of this university.”

An Aug. 7 letter signed by more than 30 UC faculty informed Elsevier that in the absence of a UC contract, they would be withdrawing their editorial services to Cell Press journals, which are overseen by Elsevier.

Universities in Germany, Sweden and Norway have let Elsevier contracts expire as well, also calling for fairer pricing and more open access to research.

At the Nov. 4 University Senate meeting, one faculty member said that her department is encouraging faculty to “ban their grad students from publishing in any Elsevier journal, because of the outrageous costs.”

“We have to realize that taxpayer money is going into the federal granting agencies that are providing the money for us to do the research, that we’re then paying Elsevier the page charges to publish the work, and then our students don’t have access to the journal other than through — ” she said. Someone cut her off, adding “Then they’re charging us $9 million.”

The SUNY University Faculty Senate wrote in their resolution that it encourages SUNY negotiators to “[reduce] SUNY expenditures, [maintain] access to the current holdings and [support] open access publishing.”

If Elsevier doesn’t negotiate a fair contract, the senate wrote that SUNY negotiators should follow UC’s lead and cancel the subscription.

Stony Brook is hosting two town halls — one on Monday, Nov. 25, and another on Tuesday, Dec. 10 — that will offer updates on negotiations and discuss possible alternatives to the subscription service.

Further updates will also be given on Monday, Dec. 2 at the next University Faculty Senate meeting.

Gary Ghayrat contributed reporting.

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