Temple University Press: A Temple Made Gem
By Robin Kolodny,
Associate Professor of Political Science
As faculty at a public institution, we know that Temple is one of many universities launching campaigns to attract high-achieving students, financial contributions from alumni and other donors, as well as emerging or established scholars for our faculty. Our administration currently (and correctly) promotes Temple-made forms of excellence, and I want to do likewise by pointing to one that I know well. Although some are unaware that we are a book publisher, Temple University Press books represent us all over the world. In some places, our books are all that people know about Temple University. I want our faculty to recognize how integral the Press is to what we do as a university and to realize that the university’s current financial problems threaten to weaken the Press.
In 2009, the Faculty Senate appointed me to the Press Board, a body responsible for the quality and substance of what we publish. Now, I am Board chair. While I had an appreciation for what the Press was publishing in my own field, Political Science, since joining the Board I have learned that Temple University Press enjoys an extraordinary reputation in Asian American Studies, History, Sports, Sociology, Urban Studies, Gender and Women’s Studies, Disability Studies, Youth Studies, American Studies, Environmental Studies, Education, and in regional publishing (the titles in the latter category target general interest readers and include The Eagles Encyclopedia and Still Philadelphia). From its beginnings in 1968, the Press established itself as a daring publisher, pioneering in such fields as American, African American, urban, gay/lesbian, and women’s studies. Interdisciplinarity has been a hallmark of the list from the start.
The entire Temple community should be aware and proud of what the Press has accomplished in its 43-year history. We should think of the Press as an integral component of our identity as a research university and a key contributor to our academic reputation. I can tell you that as faculty Board members have reached the end of their service, they report that being on the Board has been the most satisfying committee work in their time at Temple. We Board members are really invested in the Press and take pride in the accolades and prizes that “the list” garners. Several faculty have told me that their interest in Temple was based in part on the reputation of the Press.
The Faculty Board of Review’s role (the same as in most university presses) is to approve projects for contracts at one of several critical states of development: early, when there is a hot project from an author with a track record, or at a later stage, when a complete draft manuscript or revised dissertation has been submitted. Faculty on the Board receive lengthy packages for each prospective book project, including sample chapters, external reviews, authors’ responses to the reviews, and the editor’s memo about the overall development of the project and the decisions the editors make when adjudicating between reviewers and authors. In the course of every meeting, we marvel at the excellent job the editors do. They have scouted out the best authors and projects within their areas, somehow found appropriate (and willing) reviewers, and worked with the authors on revision plans to make their work the best contribution possible to their fields. The four acquisitions editors have impressive intellectual knowledge of their fields, understand the business environment for books in their disciplines, and have an uncanny sense of whether or not an author can or will deliver a final product worth of reading. The Board often contributes comments that further guide the editors’ advice to authors and shape the final project. This process involves advice as well as consent, and we on the Board routinely do much more than point our thumbs up or down. Those of us who have published books often have a great respect and affection for our editors, especially because they have a deep sense of what will work and what will not, and we feel our publications improve for their efforts. Board meetings give us a both a window into and a part to play in the deliberations on the other side of the process.
This Press is a publisher that is governed by Temple faculty. For that reason, we take pride in the fact that Temple University Press contributes substantially to the intellectual reputation of Temple University and its operation on campus provides a forum for academics of disparate backgrounds to contribute to important academic discussions.
In just the last few months, Temple University Press books have won major academic awards including the Ralph Bunche Award from the American Political Science Association (APSA) for Race Appeal: How Candidates Invoke Race in U.S. Political Campaigns by Charlton McIlwain and Stephen Caliendo; the Society for the Study of Symbolic Interaction bestowed the Charles Horton Cooley award for Best Book in 2011to The Textures of Time: Agency and Temporal Experience by Michael Flaherty; and Jerome I. Hodos, author of Second Cities: Globalization and Local Politics in Manchester and Philadelphia , will soon receive the Urban History Association's Kenneth Jackson Award for Best Book published in 2011. Historically we have won recognition in numerous fields (See a list). Our titles appear in translation in countries around the world and now that we publish electronic books, many are available to anyone who can access a computer.
It is no secret that the book world is changing. Bookstores are disappearing and Kindles, Nooks, and I-Pads are popping up everywhere. Surely that means it is “cheaper” to produce books these days as the platform for conveying knowledge changes from paper to pdf? Temple University Press is well aware of these changes, and Press Director Alex Holzman has been ahead of the curve by helping to create and then bringing the press into a consortium with Project Muse to make our list available in electronic collections. We have also been far ahead in creating companion websites to our publications especially in the areas of ethnomusicology (with music discussed in the book) and photography alongside many of our titles on race and ethnicity. The Press has embraced digital technologies not only to make the business of producing print books more efficient but also to make electronic books available to libraries and individuals. Along with three other presses, Temple was awarded a major grant from the Mellon Foundation that supported the initiative that led to the University Press Content Consortium. Research libraries all over the world now purchase these books in electronic form from Project Muse. This initiative proved so appealing to university presses that the consortium now includes some 75 presses, and the response from libraries has been astounding. Far from closing down academic publishing, digital technology gives it new life.
Just because the end user pays less in for a product in an e-platform rather than in paper (while saving on shipping fees) does not mean that presses are able to “save” money and thus publish the same title for less. Printing and binding represent a small portion of the cost of making books. The main costs of running a reputable press are not in the mechanics of getting the books on the shelves, but in the intellectual labor required to transform a manuscript into something worthy of the label “book” in the first place. The publication platform does not reduce the need for editors to be familiar with the latest developments in their fields, to travel to conferences to meet with prospective authors, to procure appropriate reviewers (and compensate them within the norms of the industry – by paying a small cash fee or giving them a certain amount in Press books), to work with authors on intermediate drafts, and to decide when despite all this expenditure of time and energy, a manuscript is just not worthy of being a Temple University Press title. So when our books sell well (and a considerable number of them do) their proceeds already go toward paying for the effort expended on those that didn’t make the cut. The Press actually recovers over two-thirds of its costs from the sale of its books.
What’s more, the Press has a potentially significant role to play as Temple, along with all universities, considers how best to move ahead with managing all aspects of the scholarly communications revolution now underway. These range from evaluation of new forms of conducting scholarship to new forms of peer review, of publication methods involving both formats (electronic or print and what “flavor" of each), potential new business models (consumer pays, author pays, open access, embargoes, institutional repositories, etc.) and so on. Digital scholarship and its dissemination is a very complicated subject and will require input from faculty, library, administrators, and students as well as the Press, but the Press has perhaps the broadest knowledge of all these factors of any other single unit within the university. In particular, it has very detailed knowledge of the business aspects of the costs and revenues involved in scholarly communication.
Outside of its direct publishing activities, the Press and its staff play an important role within the university community. Over the years they frequently counsel individual faculty and administrators about book projects they might be working on, regardless of whether those books would fit within the Press’s areas of publication. They often recommend appropriate presses, offer suggestions on how to present material to other publishers, outline some of the rules of the road for publishing, and provide feedback on sample materials. Press staff have also led gatherings of junior faculty and/or graduate students to give similar advice, helping them navigate the publication process. And on occasion the Press has helped organize sessions like the one on the future of scholarly publishing held in cooperation with the Council for the Humanities at Temple (CHAT) awhile back.
As Temple University copes with the assaults on our financial health, we on the Press Board hope to rally support for this center of excellence and its expression of the university’s enduring values. The Press is not an auxiliary unit. It serves the faculty and our students in direct and indirect ways, and it speaks loud and clear in support of the university’s mission with every title it publishes.
Like virtually every other university press, ours operates with a subsidy. Like other Temple units, the Press has implemented several rounds of budget cuts in recent years, yet it has managed not only to increase the size of its list (to some 60 books a year) but also to retain its highly skilled staff. Additional budget cuts, however, would certainly mean a reduced staff (only thirteen full-time employees at present), which would necessitate reducing the number of books published each year. A smaller list would undoubtedly cover fewer disciplines and lower the Press’s and the university’s global visibility. The Board feels strongly that the Press should remain at its present size and level of output so that we can continue to grow in visibility and stature and thereby support the research mission of the university. It can do so only if it is not subject to more than its fair share of cuts.
Many of you are already aware that several other university presses have had similar challenging discussions with their administrators and some have not fared well. More discussions are certainly coming. Let us start ours at Temple with the understanding that Temple University Press is stronger than it has ever been and pays great dividends to the core mission of the university. •