On March 15, just days after the World Health Organization had declared COVID-19 a pandemic, the Association of University Presses (AUPresses) Board of Directors convened online for its spring Board Meeting. We spent our first hour together sharing the state of our presses and the rapidly changing guidance of our parent institutions and our governments. It was cathartic to share with our publishing colleagues the strangeness of it all as we gathered—from our offices, our living rooms, our patios—for what would become the first of countless virtual meetings.
It will be impossible to remember my year of service to the Association without reflecting on this world turning point. As we turned to the work of the Board, I was reminded again of the significance of our work—building the scholarly record that expands human knowledge and helps solve global problems.
The 2019-2020 Board of Directors advanced two important agenda items launched by my predecessors. Building on the recommendations of the Diversity and Inclusion Task Force first established by Nicole Mitchell (Washington), we established the Association’s first Equity, Justice, and Inclusion Committee chaired by Gita Manaktala (MIT) and Brian Halley (Massachusetts). We adopted a peer-reviewed statement on equity and anti-racism developed by the Task Force and refined by the Committee. The statement acknowledges our responsibility, at the leading edge of knowledge production, to adopt explicitly anti-racist, justice-oriented practices in our curatorial, marketing, and business endeavors. It urges us to engage with our parent institutions’ histories of institutional racism and to be leaders in the publishing industry through the establishment of new institutional systems based on equity. The Board asked the Central Office to ensure the release of the statement was not eclipsed by events related to the pandemic, and we hope to publish it in conjunction with the Community Reads program during our virtual annual meeting. The Board of Directors has committed itself to anti-racism training when travel resumes, and to making similar resources available to the membership in the best way possible. In addition, we agreed to provide administrative support for the Coalition for Diversity and Inclusion in Scholarly Communication (C4DISC), an organization AUPresses helped found in 2018.
Past-President Jennifer Crewe (Columbia) and I also shared with members the report of the 2018-2019 Task Force on Gender, Equity, and Cultures of Respect (GECOR). Chaired by Christie Henry (Princeton), this Task Force was charged by Crewe in her presidential term to assess the full range of gender-related issues facing both our community and its individual members and to recommend policies, programs, and resources that increase gender-equity, confront hostility, and foster respect. The report offers valuable insights and strong recommendations for both presses and the Association for monitoring and addressing long-standing equity issues. While the planned June Directors’ Meeting on Inclusive Publishing will not go forward, the Board is committed to the development of resources for presses and for providing ongoing training opportunities in the future.
Our constituency calls, conducted throughout the year, present the Board with an opportunity to reflect on the tremendous range of our membership. Our members are from six continents. We are allied with institutions that include universities public and private, museums, military branches, libraries, think tanks, and religious organizations. Our publishing programs are large and small, expansive and specialized, innovative and storied. These differences frequently prove a tremendous source of strength for our community and our Association—we make better decisions, we learn more from each other, we are better able to support each other.
Our presses are different, yet we are united by our commitment to academic excellence, a commitment that flourishes through our community’s exchange of ideas and best practices. Led by Anthony Cond (Liverpool), the Board developed a soon-to-be-launched Global Presses Partnership Program that will bring together university presses in the Global South with AUPresses members to expand the knowledge base of the entire international university press community through the sharing of experience and practical education across borders. Through this program, which will launch in the coming year, we hope to broaden our perspective and to amplify the work of presses in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean.
Our approach to open access (OA) is another difference among our members. As many members grapple with new mandates or seek to experiment with OA, I established the Open Access Task Force, led by Erich van Rijn (California). As a foundation for their explorations and eventual recommendations to the Association, they conducted a survey of OA activity in our community. Data from that effort will be shared in their eventual report, but there were a few stats that I found particularly eye-opening. Two thirds of our members (103 presses) responded to the survey: more than 60% have published open access books and, of those, more than 80% have published open access editions of frontlist books. Moreover, 33% publish OA journal content. With so many of our community actively engaged in OA, we look forward to developing ways to promote understanding of rapidly evolving government and funder requirements, engagement with OA business models, and creation of best practices around the production and dissemination of OA scholarship.
Advocacy remains a primary focus of the Association’s strategic plan. In support of that plan, we established our first Advocacy Committee, led this year by Meredith Babb (Florida). Working in collaboration with the Central Office and leadership, the committee is developing press-based advocacy tools for members to be shared on the UP Commons. Led by Greg Britton (Johns Hopkins), we established the Stand UP Award to honor a person or group, not currently on staff at a member press, who, through their words and actions, has done extraordinary work to support, defend, and celebrate the university press community.
As the pandemic forced us all from our campuses, we held a series of virtual hangouts for press directors. These sessions were highly valued, not least by me, for the opportunity they offered for sharing concerns and trading tips. Our collaboration is our greatest asset. Look for a new series of Directors’ Hangouts, as well as an increased schedule of these for other departments, in the coming months as we look to the challenges ahead.
Serving as AUPresses President has afforded me a remarkable opportunity to see what our Association is made of. I have seen the dogged determination of our Central Office staff, led by the ever-ready Peter Berkery, who tends to the myriad concerns of members, both individually and collectively, each day. I have seen the fierce support of our members for one another. I have seen the ingenuity of our marketers, who came together in recent weeks to support the independent bookstores that support us and to rally for the common cause of scholarship. I have seen our stellar Annual Meeting Program Committee turn on a dime to create a virtual meeting that will give our members actionable ideas, professional growth, and opportunities to meet new colleagues. I have seen a community of publishers that believes our collective efforts are greater than the sum of our parts.
Our work is more important than ever. As I said in Detroit, when misinformation, disinformation, and “fake news” feel like they have become the norm, valuing expertise can feel like a radical act. Thanks to the many volunteers who conducted the work of our Association this year, and thanks to each and every one of our members for the work that you do every day.
Kathryn Conrad, President 2019-2020
Director, University of Arizona Press