The Birth of an Academic OSPO

What is an Academic OSPO?

The academic space has begun to see activity around the idea of Open Source Program Offices at colleges and universities. Like their industry counterparts, these offices lead or advise administrative efforts around policy, licensing compliance, and staff education. But they can also be charged with efforts around student education, research policies and practices, and the faculty tenure and promotion process tied to research.

Johns Hopkins University (JHU) soft-launched their OSPO 2019, led by Sayeed Choudhury, Associate Dean for Research Data Management and Hodson Director of the Digital Research and Curation Center at the Sheridan Libraries.

Case Study: Open@RIT

Professor Stephen Jacobs of RIT met Green at RIT’s booth at OSCON in the summer of 2019 and learned about JHU’s soft-launch of their OSPO. The RIT booth showcased RIT’s then decade-long efforts in working with students in Open Source**, **which began with a 2009 Honors seminar course in creating educational games for the One Laptop per Child program pioneered by MIT. That seminar was formalized into a regular course, Humanitarian Free and Open Source Software. (The current syllabus for the course can be found at this link)

By 2010 we had what we called the Course-to-Co-Op lifecycle. Students could get engaged in Open Work through an in this ecosystem, entryway, events, hackathons, project support, formal classes, or a co-op experience. In 2012, after a meeting with the UNICEF Office of Innovation, we sent FOSS students on Co-Op to Kosovo for UNICEF. We began to formally brand the Co-Op program as LibreCorps, which has worked with several FOSS projects since, including more work with UNICEF. In 2014 we announced what Cory Doctorow called a “Wee Degree in Free,” the first academic minor in Free and Open Source Software and Free Culture.

All of these efforts provided a great base for RIT to build our own Open Programs Office on (more on that missing “s” word in a moment) Professor Jacobs, with the support of Dr. Ryne Raffaelle, RIT’s VP of Research, wrote a “white paper” on how such an office might benefit RIT. RIT’s Provost, Dr. Ellen Granberg, suggested a university-wide meeting to gauge interest, and 50 people from 37 units across campus RSVP’d to the meeting. A subset of that group worked together (online, amid the early days of the pandemic) to develop a “wish list” document of what they’d like to see Open@RIT provide in terms of services and support. That effort informed the creation of the charter for Open@RIT approved by the Provost in the summer of 2020.

An Open Programs Office

Open@RIT is dedicated to fostering an “Open Across The University” collaborative engine for Faculty, Staff, and Students. Its goals are to discover and grow the footprint, of RIT’s impact on all things Open including, but not limited to, Open Source Software, Open Data, Open Science, Open Hardware, Open Educational Resources, and Creative Commons licensed efforts; what we like to refer to in aggregate as Open Work.

When we started Open@RIT we realized we had a pretty diverse constituency that served all the university’s efforts. We didn’t want to seem closed to those faculty students and staff that didn’t do software, so we’re an Open Programs Office, the IEEE, in their IEEE SA Open effort (which Open@RIT partners with) made the same choice.

What’s Been Done Since the Founding?

Open Science (a term that gets used along with “Open Research” and “Open Scholarship”) refers to a process that keeps all aspects of scientific research, for the formation of a research plan onward, in the Open. This process is exemplified by the Center for Open Science and its Open Science Framework. Open@RIT is currently experimenting with importing the OSF formatted information into the CHAOSS Community’s GrimoireLab (a Linux Foundation Project). While the academic community favors Open Science practices, it’s been slow to adopt those practices fully. This Scientific American Op-Ed (that mentions Open@RIT) points to the need for academia to become more Open, as does this recently released guide from the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Mathematics.

In October of 2020 The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation funded a proposal by Open@RIT funding some general efforts of the unit and in particular a LibreCorps team to support what we’re now calling the Open@RIT Fellows Program, we’re charged with supporting 30 faculty projects over two years and already have twenty-one that have registered, with about one-third of those project support requests completed or in-progress.

Drafting Policies and Best Practices Documents

Policy in academia is and should be slow to form. Open@RIT’s draft policy on Open Work touches every part of the research done at the university. It’s especially involved as it needs to cover three different classes of constituents. Students own their IP at RIT (a rarity in academia) except when the university pays them for the work that they do (research assistance ships, work-study jobs, etc.), Staff (the University owns their IP in most cases), and Faculty. The last are a special case in that researchers and scientists are expected to publish their work but may need to work with the university to determine commercialization potential. It also needs to address Software, hardware, data, etc.

Our current draft is making the rounds to the different constituencies and committees, and that process will be completed at some point in academic year 21-22. In the meantime, parts of it will be published as Open@RIT’s best practices in our playbook. Our recommendations for citing and supporting Open Work in Tenure and Promotion will also be part of the playbook. The policy will be published by the end of the year and its creation is supported by both the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and the Linux Foundation.

Faculty and Staff Professional Development

In a few weeks, we will be formally releasing this Zotero curated collection of articles, journal papers, book chapters, and videos on various aspects of Open Work and Open scholarship. We hope to offer professional development-related workshops in late fall or early spring of the coming AY.

Student Education

Open@RIT is wrapping up our Open Across the curriculum efforts. While we’ve had several courses and a minor in place, they mostly were for juniors and seniors. Those classes were modified to begin accepting Sophomores, and new pieces have been brought into play. At RIT, students are required to take an “immersion,” which is a collection of three courses, primarily from liberal arts, designed to broaden students outside of their majors. The Free Culture and Free and Open Source Computing Immersion does just that and opens to students this fall. Within the month, Open@RIT will distribute a set of lecture materials to all departments for opt-in use in their freshman seminars that discuss what it means for students to own their IP in general and, specifically, what Opening that IP can mean in science, technology, and the arts. So students will be able to learn about Open as freshmen, take one or both of our foundational courses *Humanitarian Free and Open Source Software *and Free and Open Source Culture as Sophomores and then go on to the Immersion (three courses) or the Minor (five courses) should they so choose.

Advisory Board and Industry Service

Open@RIT meets three times/year with our advisory board, consisting of our alums and a number of Open Source Office members from Industry and related NGOs.

Next Steps

By the end of 2022, Open@RIT will complete all of the points in its charter, hold a campus conference to highlight Open Work being done across the university, and complete a sustainability plan to ensure its future.