On the Loss of an Advocate, Dr. James Sterbenz

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March 4, 2019 by joshbolick

We are saddened to learn of the passing last Monday of our friend and colleague, Professor James Sterbenz, who has been deeply involved in open access advocacy at KU and abroad for a long time. We wish to share the following anecdote that illustrates his commitment.


A couple of years ago we learned that whenever James received a review request from “for-profit non-gold-open-access journals” (his words), he provided the following response:

I regret that with limited time and financial resources I am no longer able to provide reviews nor editorial services to for-profit non-gold-open-access journals without compensation.  I am willing to provide expert services at the discounted rate of $100/hr, and will also review for free if I receive in-kind full personal access to all of Science Direct for 1 year.

I didn’t take this decision lightly, but I feel I have no choice, and must take a public stand to do the right thing for myself and the community. The only exception to this policy is to provide review services to special issues of journals for conferences in which I participate, or to edit LNCS volumes that have pre-existing arrangements; however I will do all in my power to switch these events to publish with non-profit societies, such as ACM or IEEE, or true OA journals.

I am also recommending that my colleagues take this action.


Obviously some of the particular details varied according to which journal/publisher he was responding to. On this particular occasion it filtered up and eventually led to a VP from Elsevier coming to Lawrence to talk to us about it (literally to have a conversation, not implying any impropriety). It was a memorable meeting. James was a memorable person and a fierce advocate who always showed up, and always participated. He will be missed.

The letter below, written by Ada Emmett on behalf of our office and shared with the many friends of OA at KU, provides more history and context to James’ advocacy. We extend our deepest condolences to James’ family as well as his friends and colleagues around the world. His obituary is available here.

Dear Colleagues on the KU Open Access Advisory Board and our many friends of Open Access at KU,

Many of you have already seen the news of the untimely passing of Professor James Sterbenz. James, among many other talents and fields of endeavor and influence, was a long standing advocate for open access. He was a member of the KU Open Access Advisory Board, going back to 2012, and he and I had email correspondence going back as early as 2010 related to copyright issues and the engineering students’ ETDs.

He was a fierce advocate for and defender of open access, I’m sure well before I met him, but we grew to learn more from each other and test our advocacy work in the same field—on this OA Board, and in our own disciplines.

James was a stalwart member of the Board and attended nearly every meeting, only missing when he was out of the country. He took action to advance open access principles in his own sphere of influence—as a reviewer, author, and as a member of scholarly societies. He attended our recent Brown-Bag lunch and as always had stimulating and disciplinary-specific contributions to make to our deliberations.

He will be sorely missed—his dogged determination and commitment and his regular enthusiastic presence and contributions to our dialogs and advisory board.

I offer on behalf of the Board, to his wife and daughter and academic family around the world, our deepest condolences.

I’ve copied the Interim Provost, Dean of Engineering, and the Dean of Libraries.

Warm greetings and thank you all,



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The opinions here emerge from work done by OA advocates at our university in the Midwest. The opinions are those of the authors themselves and not necessarily of our home institution.


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