If such publishing ventures are understood as part of the core mission of the university, and thus become funded as part of the university’s infrastructure, however, there are some potentially fruitful avenues through which we can think about streamlining the labor that must take place, about finding ways to avoid the reduplication of efforts, and ways to bring together work already being done in disparate administrative units in order to expand their potential. For instance, new scholarly publishing initiatives will require significant new resources for programming, design, and distribution, but will presses or libraries need their own teams of programmers, or can a fruitful partnership be developed with the programmers located elsewhere in the institution? Do presses need metadata specialists, when this is one of the key aspects of contemporary library and information science programs? While the library, the press, and the information technology center all currently serve different aspects of the university’s communication needs, and while all are often stretched to their limits in meeting the full range of those needs, joint experimentation amongst these three units might enable fruitful reimaginations of the university as a center of communication, with a reduced need for perpetual reinvention of the wheel.
An increasing number of universities are experimenting with such partnerships, particularly between their presses and libraries, recognizing that these units often serve overlapping functions within the institution. Most notably, in March 2009, The Chronicle of Higher Education announced the restructuring of the University of Michigan Press as an academic unit housed under the University of Michigan Library:
Michigan’s new press-library hierarchy is not a revolution in itself. Many university presses now report to their campus libraries. But Philip Pochoda, the press’s director, said in an interview that he believes this arrangement is notable because it relieves the press of pressure to be financially self-sustaining.
“It removes the bottom line on a book-by-book basis,” he said. “Basically we will be judged for staying within a budget,” just as academic departments are. “In a sense, it will allow us to do more things that are consistent with university objectives, as opposed to commercial objectives.” (Howard)
The University of Michigan’s publishing program has for some time included a number of experimental partnerships between the press and the library’s Scholarly Publishing Office, including digitalculturebooks, a joint imprint whose titles are available for free online, or for sale in hard copy [see screenshot 5.2].[5.14]
The change in the press’s reporting relationship with the library now promises to free the press to undertake more such explorations of the possibilities for new publishing models, including open access publishing.
As the Chronicle points out, numerous campuses are experimenting with such relationships between their libraries and presses. The University of California Press and the California Digital Library, for instance, have partnered on a number of projects, including the eScholarship program, which has made 400 titles publicly available via the internet (and another 1600 available to members of the UC community).[5.15] Several such institutions are also experimenting with the administrative structure of these units, as a means of fostering increased dialogue between them; NYU Press, for instance, falls under the library’s reporting structure, and the library and press share a program officer for digital scholarly publishing. Pennsylvania State University has a similar reporting structure, and has developed an Office of Digital Scholarly Publishing as one point of collaboration, supported by staff members from the press, the library, and the information technology center.[5.16] In all, the January 2009 report by the Scholarly Publishing & Academic Resources Coalition notes that a study undertaken during the winter of 2007-08 found ongoing collaborations at 26 institutions; about two-thirds of these partnerships are limited to the university press and the university library, while the other third include participation from other campus units, including the information technology center and the academic departments.[5.17]
Such new partnerships, however, present challenges for institutions, and even many of the institutions that are working to build such strategic relationships encounter difficulties in the process. These difficulties are less due to any dearth of administrative imagination than to the real, material differences between these various academic units. As Brown et al point out, for instance, libraries (as well as, I’d argue, information technology centers) often have resources for experimentation available, but their positions within the institution do not serve to provide them with a broad sense of the fields in which such experiments might operate (what audiences, for instance, the experiments might address, and how they might fold into ongoing projects within the disciplines).[5.18] Presses, on the other hand, have a clear sense of their markets, but often lack the resources with which to experiment, as well as the mandate for that experimentation.[5.19] But beneath these differences between information technology centers, libraries, and presses lies the primary challenge in bringing these units together: a radically different sense of the location of each unit’s primary stakeholders. Information technology centers, for instance, have of course traditionally focused inward, serving the computing needs of the university’s own faculty and students, while presses have, at least recently, had an outward orientation, primarily serving both authors and readers from outside the institution. Libraries exist somewhere inbetween, providing a key point of contact between inside and outside as they collect material from around the world for use by the university’s faculty and students, and as they balance the needs of the university’s users with those of the broader community. This point of pivot between inside and outside, between the individual institution and the broader network of institutions within which it exists, may be the key position in the scholarly publishing program of the future.
Changing the orientation of the press with relationship to the institution, however, won’t happen easily. Libraries have a clear sense of their mandate in relationship to their institutions’ core functions, while presses have existed for some time in a more abstracted relationship to those functions, instead creating through the success of their lists a sense of “prestige” for the institution, without necessarily bearing any relationship to the work being done at the institution. This is not to say that there are no connections between the press and the university, of course; many presses do work to maintain lists in fields in which the university is strong, and most presses have members of the faculty who serve on their editorial boards. But if the assumption is that the press should function as a revenue center, it would seem that these connections have the potential to become liabilities; as Thompson argues, university presses hoping to streamline their lists “may feel some pressure to continue publishing in those disciplines which have a strong and vocal constituency within their own universities” (98). Such tensions indicate that shifting the relationship between the press and the rest of the institution, making strategic partnerships with units such as the library possible, is not simply a matter of the redistribution of resources, but rather of a broad reconsideration of the press’s relationship to the institution’s core mission.
That reconsideration, however, needs to take place not solely at the level of the press directorship, but at the level of the higher university administration. A number of the provosts and other administrators who participated in the Brown et al study expressed strong feelings in favor of the press’s outward-facing orientation: as one provost put it, “I would hate to think [that the press is] peculiarly for your own faculty” (17). At the same time, however, those provosts’ actions indicate that unless the press is intimately connected with the work of the faculty, it won’t receive adequate support: “provosts put limited resources and attention towards what they perceive to be a service to the broader community” (17). Moreover, if in reimagining the funding model of the university press, we need to rethink the relationship between the press and the various administrative units within the university, including the library, the information technology center, and the academic departments, such rethinking will further require a deeper consideration of the mission of the university. As the Ithaka report points out, “universities do not treat the publishing function as an important, mission-centric endeavor. Publishing generally receives little attention from senior leadership at universities and the result has been a scholarly publishing industry that many in the university community find to be increasingly out of step with the important values of the academy” (Brown et al 3). This may be attributable to the sense, diagnosed by Bill Readings, that the overall mission of the university itself became increasingly abstracted over the course of the twentieth century, shifting from that of an institution charged with the admittedly problematic task of creating and preserving a national culture, and of inculcating citizens into that culture, to a postmodern institution charged only with “excellence,” an organization far more corporate than cultural, with no goal higher than its own advancement. It’s little wonder that in such an environment scholarly publishing would be imagined as an “industry,” and would receive little attention from university administrations beyond quantifiably measured success as represented on the bottom line. The function of the press simply wouldn’t matter; in the university of excellence, one has a press in order to have an excellent press.
Readings argues that the university must, in order to develop a new relevance in the contemporary era, become a center of Thought, a community founded on conversation, in which we focus more on listening than on speaking, in which we agree to disagree, not as a means of arriving at consensus but rather as a form of resting in dissensus, with the goal not of concluding discussions but rather of their ethical, open-ended continuation. This process of “thinking together,” Readings argues, “belongs to dialogism rather than dialogue” (192), and thus the contradictions presented by a multiplicity of perspectives are not uncovered in order to be resolved, but are rather themselves the point. Dwelling in those contradictions is a desired outcome Readings mostly ties to the pedagogical process, but there are clear implications for scholarship as well. As I’ve argued in earlier chapters, the purpose of scholarship is itself a mode of conversation amongst scholars (if a protractedly slow one), and scholarly publishing is the form the conversation takes, the means of allowing a multiplicity of voices to be heard, and of creating the possibility for others to listen. If for no other reason than that, the channels through which these scholarly conversations take place — those modes of communication managed by the information technology center, the library and, most crucially, the press — should be included at the very core of the university’s structure, the center of its research mission.
To say it more plainly: Publishing the work of its faculty must be reconceived as central to the university’s mission. I make this argument not in order to suggest that such publication serve as a means of publicity for the university, allowing the institution to advertise its excellence by making public its faculty’s accomplishments. Nor am I arguing that centralizing publishing within the institution will make the production and dissemination of knowledge more efficient; in fact, as Readings points out, the current crisis faced by the university “cannot be answered by a program of reform that either produces knowledge more efficiently or produces more efficient knowledge. Rather, the analogy of production itself must be brought into question: the analogy that makes the University into a bureaucratic apparatus for the production, distribution, and consumption of knowledge” (163). What I am arguing is that thought requires a mode of expression, and that conversation requires a channel to facilitate it, and that publishing provides, in the humanities, that mode and that channel.
Where Readings’s argument falls short, however, is in his conviction that thought cannot be economic, and that it must be conceived of as part of an “economy of waste” (175); I resist this characterization not because I think that scholarly production can or should hew to the bottom line, but instead because waste — however empowering and transgressive the term may be for academics — will never sell to recalcitrant state legislatures or boards of trustees, not in an economic climate such as we now face. Donald Hall similarly points out the inevitability that “intellectual growth, expansive knowledge seeking, and experimentation with the arts and humanities will be perceived as wastes of time and money when students are accumulating huge amounts of debt in a cost-driven rush to what must be very high-paying employment” (106). The challenge, as Hall understands it, is not embracing this sense of waste, but rather reclaiming the intellectual growth created by the conversation fostered in the university as a public good rather than a private responsibility. We must as we build the university of the future find ways to demonstrate our service to that public good, to model the open dialogic community through our scholarly networks, and to show plainly why the conversations we engage in matter. For all of these reasons, access to the work that we produce as scholars must be opened up not just as a site of conversation amongst scholars but also as a site of conversation between scholars and the broader culture, to ensure the continued support for the university not simply as a credentialing center but rather as a center of thought.
For this to happen, for publishing to become central to the university’s mission, the position of the press with respect to its institution must change, in one way that the university administration may not like, and in one way that the press directorship may not like. First, the press must be funded as infrastructure, not as a revenue center; just as no institution would ask the library or the information technology center to focus on cost recovery, neither should we ask this of the press. If, as the AAU report argues, the dissemination of scholarship is “a core responsibility of the university” (1), that mission must be responsibly funded. But second, the press needs to imagine itself in service first and foremost to the needs of its home institution, by focusing on the publication of the work of its own faculty. As one “press leader” quoted in Brown et al put it, “university presses have a broad mission — to be stewards of scholarship [and serve the] public good. They used to have a specific mission — to act as the showcase for the research of their particular university [and serve the] institutional good. University presses have drifted away from this second mission and we need to get back to it” (22, insertions in original). Neither change can or should occur without the other, and both are vital to scholarly publishing’s survival, much less its development, into the future. However radical these recommendations may sound, they have deep roots in older models for understanding the press’s relationship to the university; a brief glance backward at those older models might be useful in thinking them through.