Well of course we should all regret the decision of Duquesne University to close their press. Having a press is a sort of badge of seriousness for a university, though the idea many outsiders have, that a university will establish a press in order to publish the books written by its own faculty, is just wrong. Professors at university ABC will happily publish at the press of university DEF, especially as different presses have different strengths. Furthermore there is no fall-back right for academics at university XYZ to have their home press publish their books — though there’s often a great deal of embarrassment in declining the work of a colleague and friend. Any book has to be good enough to be published anywhere. Nevertheless shutting your press down must represent some kind of admission of failure, though I can’t help reflecting that no person or organization is under any requirement to be a publisher. It’s not a moral issue, and nor is it, as the AAUP’s statement strives to imply, a matter of choosing between sports and learning.

“The Association of American University Presses denounces the decision last week by the administration of Duquesne University rejecting the efforts of the association, the university’s faculty, the staff of its Press, and even some members of the administration itself to identify alternatives to the closure of Duquesne University Press. Despite a robust list of alternatives that would reduce cost while retaining quality, the university confirmed its intention to withdraw support and close its press. The decision was announced the same week as the hiring of a new men’s basketball coach with a seven-figure annual salary, and shortly after the unveiling of plans to invest $40 million in the refurbishing of the basketball arena. In AAUP’s view — and indeed in the view of many other observers both on- and off-campus — these consumption choices seem inconsistent with the institutional mission and aspirations of a national research university.” — Part of the AAUP’s statement yesterday concerning Duquesne University, Pittsburgh, Pa., and its press.

From Shelf Awareness, 6 April 2017.

On an idiot level it’s hard to argue against the fact that college sports earn universities large sums of money — and no doubt a successful basketball team means more to most people in the world out there than a record of publishing great monographs most of which no doubt struggle to sell 1,000 copies each. Personally I deplore the decision, and of course the AAUP’s got to stand up and be counted — that’s what they’re there for — and they don’t want to lose a member press either.

The university claims their annual subsidy to the press is of the order of $300,000. While this is indeed next to nothing compared to the cost of a new basketball stadium, it is surely within the rights of the university to decide that it is more than they wish to continue to invest. It’s all very unfortunate, but there are arguments on both sides. Closing a press probably doesn’t actually reduce the access of scholars to avenues of publication. Duquesne is a fairly small press. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette says it publishes 10 books a year, though in some years it looks to be one or two fewer. Other university presses will no doubt be ready and able to take over the flow of manuscripts, so one can’t really run the argument that scholarship is going to be affected by the closure. Sure, a well-curated publishing program can support or even, in rare instances, stimulate an avenue of academic enquiry, but ultimately a good book will always be able to find a home. Duquesne has a niche in Milton studies, and indeed publishes the annual hardback volume Milton Studies. But of course other presses publish books about Milton, and no doubt homes will be found for future work.

New manuscripts may end up facing some delays, but should transition fairly successfully. The back list is where the main problem lies. Authors will no doubt get rights-reversions and many will be able to get other publishers to take on their books. No doubt however there will be several books which will just become unavailable joining the ranks of orphan books despite actually having a parent!

The real sufferers however will be the five staff members. Not only are they losing their jobs, but they are probably facing the necessity of changing either career or domicile; Pittsburgh is unlikely to be bursting with publishing jobs. Being laid off is always traumatic, even in the fertile ground which is New York City. It’s no immediate consolation to be assured that the shake-up of an enforced job change almost always ends up being “a good thing”. Being forced out of that rut does tend to work out to be ultimately invigorating.