More than 100 North American universities choose to invest in a university press, including nearly 70 percent of leading research institutions and almost 80 percent of Association of American Universities members. Publishing scholarship of the highest quality in an environment driven by mission, and not profit, is an endeavor that top universities heartily endorse. Our daily work as scholarly publishers is firmly grounded in the foundational beliefs and goals of our parent institutions. While the publishing mix of individual university presses may vary, as do our universities’ areas of strength, our purpose is the same: the advancement of knowledge.
Looking back on a year that has included soul-searching at both Stanford University, an elite private institution, and the University of Western Australia, a vital public university, we are reminded that leaders at our home institutions sometimes are unfamiliar with what university presses do or with their own integral role in supporting scholarly publishing. Misunderstanding can lead to hasty or inaccurate judgments.
When our parent institutions question or periodically require deep review of our operations and practices, we press directors endeavor to correct misunderstanding and demonstrate our stewardship of limited resources. We respond with sales figures, detailed editorial plans, budget narratives, comparative statistics from within our industry -- tracked and analyzed by the Association of University Presses (AUPresses) -- and many other data points.
For example, as the 2018 operating data of 61 North American university presses show, sales revenues multiplied the presses’ institutional budget allocations more than fivefold while producing nearly 6,000 new works of scholarly and cultural significance. We can also offer persuasive, qualitative evidence of our work’s impact on behalf of our universities. Our colophons carry our universities’ names onto bookshelves and digital platforms worldwide. And through our publications’ reviews, media coverage and subsequent citations in new research, we advance our parent institutions’ reputations.
In addition, we are eager to expand conversations with our institutional colleagues to include broader views of how university presses contribute to the ways that knowledge is created and shared. To that end, AUPresses’ leaders have articulated 30 ways that university presses recognize and strive to meet the needs of parent institutions, a host of scholars and society itself in a single statement, “The Value of University Presses.” Let’s consider a few of the ways that university presses support the advancement of knowledge by delivering specific value to members of these three key groups.
Delivering Value to Scholars
Perhaps unsurprisingly, faculty members often are our biggest fans on campus; we provide indispensable support as they advance both their ideas and their very careers. We collaborate closely to test the validity and soundness of each work through rigorous peer review; because of this rigor, our publishing decisions provide crucial information to university hiring, promotion and tenure decision making. Our dedicated staffs also add value to scholars’ work by offering careful editorial development, professional copyediting and design, and extensive promotional and distribution efforts through which our authors’ ideas are made broadly available.
At its most fundamental level, our work advances a wide variety of disciplines by fostering fresh perspectives, often before they are mainstream endeavors, and embracing early-career scholars. Columbia University Press has published Asian studies titles since the 1960s, when few other North American publishers covered this area. The University of Arizona Press -- along with the University of Minnesota Press, the University of North Carolina Press and the Oregon State University Press -- began collaboratively publishing the first books in indigenous studies in 2009, just as that field was emerging. And those book-length works tell only a portion of the story: nearly half of our association’s more than 150 members publish journals -- nearly 1,300 titles -- where many new scholars find their voices and field-expanding research often debuts.
Delivering Value to Society
University presses reach readers outside the academy, sharing valuable scholarship with society at large. Our annual University Press Week celebration this past fall handily demonstrated the variety and importance of our publications to contemporary civic discourse and decision making, featuring works that ranged from When Words Trump Politics (Stanford University Press) to The MLA Guide to Digital Literacy (Modern Language Association of America) to No Planet B (Cambridge University Press). The national successes of fellow association members’ books such as White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo (Beacon Press) and Cyberwar by Kathleen Hall Jamieson (Oxford University Press) make it clear that people are hungry for works that inform matters of public debate.
The foundational research and analysis in our books, journals and digital publications often also inform policy makers, journalists and opinion makers, to lasting effect. Recently, a Johns Hopkins University Press book, Golden Rice: The Imperiled Birth of a GMO Superfood by Ed Regis, was hailed as influential in a life-changing policy shift in Bangladesh: the decision to commercialize genetically modified golden rice, which has enormous potential to reduce vitamin A-deficient blindness and deaths throughout the developing world.
Delivering Value to Our Home Institutions
Through our partnerships with scholars and our contributions to informed social discourse, university presses add value to our parent institutions’ profiles, expanding their influence and promoting their brands in a variety of areas of inquiry: humanities, arts, social sciences, STEM fields and professional education. Investing in a university press can be a concrete way for an institution to manifest its particular support for the humanities and social sciences -- fields that, in the United States, are rarely supported by government or corporate funding. Columbia University, for example, amplifies the good work of its Center for Oral History with its press’s new Columbia Oral History Series.
University presses also connect our parent institutions with the communities we inhabit, publishing works that encourage local and regional understanding. The University of Arizona Press’s La Calle: Spatial Conflicts and Urban Renewal in a Southwest City (2010) examines the disastrous history of Arizona’s first major urban renewal project in the once densely populated heart of Tucson’s Mexican American community. By publishing and promoting this work, the press has linked the academy powerfully with the community, inspiring creative collaborations as well as continuing dialogue.
So whenever our parent institutions question why and how they should support scholarly publishing -- and ideally before critical junctures like the ones reached in Palo Alto and Perth this past year -- we endeavor not only to educate with quantitative and qualitative indicators but also to expand those conversations to illustrate the value that university presses deliver to universities, scholars and society itself. More than 100 of North America’s top universities clearly believe that an energetic, outward-facing publishing program is a tremendous asset to, indeed a responsibility of, any university. They support the advancement of knowledge by investing in a university press every day.