As I noted on Facebook yesterday, Hopkins has recently moved to publishing its theses online. The website that outlines the many benefits of this system notes:
Why are we doing this?
- Easier on the student--no more printing hassles
- Wider dissemination--your dissertation will be freely available to the world soon after you graduate
This makes sense for all academic disciplines, because they have a fundamentally different view of what it means to publish a work. There's a sense that the academic paper is not, in itself, a valuable object. When you place one, you receive no payment. Furthermore, you assign all copyright to the journal that publishes it (to the degree that you actually need to request their permission if you want to republish your own article). In this sense, it makes sense that schools would think nothing of flinging theses willy-nilly onto the internet. Furthermore, there's a value to academic transparency: it's worthwhile to know exactly what constitutes a thesis in a discipline and to disseminate any potentially worthwhile work. For some very obscure subject areas, sometimes a masters thesis or PhD thesis can be the only extant work on that topic.
However, in creative writing, there is no such value to completeness. It's rather the opposite. We value selectivity. Few authors would be happy to be, essentially, forced to self-publish their student work. Furthermore, when we place a story in a journal or a magazine, they place a premium on being the first place to have brought out the work. The whole thing, as in the case with plagiarism policies, is a result of a misalignment of both aim and culture.
But oh well. At least they pay us.