Archive for April 28th, 2019

Is Stanford University Press doomed? “This is a reprehensible moment for one of the richest universities.”

Sunday, April 28th, 2019

Alan Harvey directs Stanford U’s press. (Photo: L.A. Cicero)

Prof. Peter Stansky opened his annual “A Company of Authors” event on Saturday with a somber comment: “Those in the Stanford community who are interested in books may be interested to know that the provost of the University has decided, it appears, to terminate significant financial support of the Stanford University Press which will result in the downgrading of the press, making it unworthy of this University. In fact the University should increase its support and pursue a search of an endowment for the Press that would make it, as is the university of which it is a part, a press as strong as those at its peer institutions such as Harvard, Yale, and Princeton.  It is peculiar thinking that the Press, unlike the rest of the University, should be self-supporting.” 

I didn’t realized the story had already appeared the day before in The Chronicle of Higher Education: The article began this way: 

“Stanford has the world’s third-largest university endowment, valued in 2018 at $26.5 billion. Yet it is crying poverty to explain why it can no longer provide yearly $1.7-million subsidies to its acclaimed press. The announced cut, which became public in a Faculty Senate meeting on Thursday, has confounded and outraged faculty members and other press supporters, and is seen by many as a backhanded way of closing the scholarly publisher.

“‘This is a reprehensible moment for one of the richest universities in the world and a diminution of intellectual inquiry. It really boggles the mind,’ said Woody Powell, a Stanford sociology professor, a former member of the press’s editorial board, and a current adviser to it.”

Read the rest here.

Hundreds of signatures have already been collected on a petition (below). Anyone with a Stanford affiliation is urged to sign the online petition here. People not affiliated with Stanford, but support academic presses, sign here.

A University Press is a Vital Part of Stanford’s Identity as a University.

It is Not Meant to Be a Profit-Making Entity.

To President Marc Tessier-Lavigne and Provost Persis Drell:

A letter from members of the Stanford academic community has been circulating in support of Stanford University Press. We are members of the larger academic community who rely on the Press for our own work. We want to add our voices to those of your own scholars at Stanford. The intellectual value of Stanford University Press extends far beyond your campus.

You have announced the elimination of the modest annual subsidy (~$1.7 million) to Stanford University Press, a move that will be severely damaging and likely fatal to the Press. Academic presses are vital to the life of the university and to the world of learning. They are the means by which we communicate the results of our research, and the entire university mission of teaching and scholarship relies upon them. Stanford University Press is the oldest press in the western United States, with a long tradition of publishing major works in many areas of inquiry. It provides a vital public service that Stanford should be proud of.

If we use a purely financial metric to assess the value of academic books, the scholarly mission of the academy will be lost. Presses will publish only profitable books, graduate students will write only profitable dissertations, and tenure will be awarded based on scholarship that is profitable. This will skew research and publication in exactly the wrong direction, away from the mission and purpose of a university, which is pursuit of knowledge and truth, and toward marketability The proposed elimination of Stanford University Press’s subsidy is an attack on academic freedom and free inquiry.

While of course a university needs enough money to continue functioning, no single unit need be “self-sustaining,” much less profitable, when viewed in isolation. We note that, according to Stanford Daily, the “net annual cost [of the athletic department at Stanford] is … around $67 million.” The Stanford Athletic Department thus appears not to be “self-sustaining.” Why have you chosen to single out the University Press for this application of supposed “business models” when other units on campus similarly do not turn a profit? The point of a University Press, or any academic department, is not profit. Nor, obviously, is this the mission of a major (non-profit) research university.

We urge you to rethink your approach to the Press and to recommit Stanford to its long tradition of fostering new knowledge, path-breaking intellectual work, and free inquiry. The Press forms part of the core mission of the great university that Stanford is and that, we hope, it will remain.