presses under pressure—best governance practices for university presses

In her inaugural address on Saturday, MaryKatherine Callaway said that u presses’ longstanding policy of “keeping our head down” and simply going about our business as publishers had been a decades-long “misstep” with dire current consequences; we must move campus relations up on our list of priorities to try and walk this misstep back in order to reintegrate with on-campus messaging, bring due light to our accomplishments, and increase opportunities for our respective presses. To support AAUP member presses in this, Callaway established a new Taskforce on University Relations:

“Chaired by Garrett Kiely of Chicago, this group will identify ways to build better relations with our parent institutions, ways to remain relevant, and thereby help ensure our survival. We aim for practical results as well as theoretical ones. The task force will work to develop a tool kit for directors that will provide an ongoing resource, determining best practices for university presses and covering the wide array of evolving issues we face with our governing bodies.”

In this session, chaired by Peter Dougherty of Princeton University Press, directors, experts, and advisors alike rolled up their sleeves to get some topics on the table. Discussion included: the need for all u presses to update their mission statement—every year or two at most; the advantages of occasional, formal presentations to advisory boards; bringing copies of new books and journals to every meeting; the need to take in input from other on-campus and publishing professionals, independent analysts, advisors and public relations experts; as well as the imperative nature of turning strategic planning over to department heads—to avoid stagnant goals and looped thinking.

Standout remarks came from James T. McGill, (Advisory Board Member, The Johns Hopkins University Press and former Senior Vice-President for Finance and Administration, The Johns Hopkins University). In addition to insider tips on speaking to an advisory board, he said in sum: “you guys are on a burning platform,” and universities are no longer in a position to catch us if we fall.

McGill advised u presses to continue to reach out to form strategic alliances and joint ventures (consortia) with other u presses, such as UPCC, to shore up our both our respective and collective positions in the industry, against the likes of Wiley-Blackwell, Ashgate, SAGE, and Amazon.