Provost-appointed committee recommends restructuring of SU Press

Oct. 31, 2019, 11:59 p.m.

After months of tension over the future of the Stanford University Press (SU Press), which had its funding cut and conditionally restored earlier this year, the recommendations of a Provostial committee on the Press were released by the Office of the Provost on Thursday. 

The Provost’s committee is one of two ad hoc committees created to examine the Press following a tumultuous period of backlash over Provost Persis Drell’s initial decision in April to turn down the Press’s five-year funding application. While the Provostial committee examined the financial operation of the Press, a Faculty Senate committee is still examining the Press’s role in academia, with recommendations to come later this year.

In its report, the Provostial committee recommended that Stanford address the Press’s previous request for financial support for at least another five years. It also proposed a few organizational changes in the Press’s relationship with the University administration. These include returning to the previous reporting relationship, in place until 1999, in which the Press reported directly to the Provost and the creation of a separate advisory board whose members would be appointed by the Provost. 

The Provostial committee consisted of eight faculty members, with political science professor Judith Goldstein serving as chair. The report comes after the committee met with representatives from around campus, directors of other major university presses and an external research analyst hired to compare the business model of the Press with others.

According to the report, these changes would help the Press develop “a long-range strategic plan,” increasing its alignment with the University administration.

“Both the University and the Press have failed systematically to aspire to, and reach, [the] standard [of best university presses],” the report stated.

The report called upon the administration to commit to “longer-term support” for the Press by helping it to devise “institutional structures that would lead to wider engagement by faculty, administrators, and publishing experts.”

In its comparison of the Press with similar bodies at other major universities, the committee underscored the Press’s three major characteristics: authors, governance structure and composition of the editorial board.

In addition to suggesting that the Press recruit more established authors to compete with those at other major university presses, the report recommended considering “new fields and areas that the Press might attempt to develop, including textbooks, a larger business inventory, and publications in departments in which the University is strong.” These departments include professional schools, education, law, medicine and business, as well as humanities and sciences.

The report also called for changes in the governance structure of the Press. Currently, the Press reports to the Faculty Senate’s Committee on Libraries (C-LIB).

Stressing the need for the Press to maintain a closer relationship with the University administration, the report recommended it to report directly to the Provost to develop “a more intimate connection to the academic mission of the university.”

Along with the change, the report recommended additional reporting to “a finance officer in the central administration” and establishing an advisory board consisting of twelve members, who would be appointed by the Provost.

These would be “interim measures during the next five years,” during which the Press and the University would find ways to bring greater integration of the Press into the administrative structure.

The report also urged changes to the composition of the Press’s editorial board.

“The relationship between Stanford’s Faculty Senate and the Editorial Board was broken,” the report stated. According to the report, the diminished oversight of the Faculty Senate resulted in a skewed representation of faculty members in the Press’s editorial board.

To introduce a more balanced representation of departments in the editorial board, the report proposed reforming its selection process. According to the proposed plan, the Committee on Committees of the Faculty Senate would select 10 to 15 members who would then be invited by the Provost to join the editorial board. These members would have three-year terms, renewable once. Under this plan, no more than two members from any single department could serve at the same time.

Regarding the Press’s financial dependence on University subsidies, the report stressed the need for developing a sustainable business plan, while acknowledging its unique limitations.

Unlike major university presses that have diverse revenue sources, such as journals and endowment support, the SU Press “has only one main revenue source — book sales,” the report stated. It also pointed out that the Bay Area’s high living cost increases the Press’s staff compensation expenses.

The report recommended that Stanford continue providing “a financial backstop for the Press for at least another five years,” whose amount “should be in the range of 1.5-1.7 million.” Furthermore, it proposed that the University allow the Press to expand its endowment through fundraising for up to 10 million dollars. Goldstein, the chair of the Provostial Committee, told The Daily that her committee delivered the report to the Provost as well as to the chair of the Faculty Senate committee on Oct. 15.

Drell wrote in an email to Stanford faculty that she “will make no decisions on the Press until after I have read the reports from both committees and listened to the discussion in the Faculty Senate.” The second committee, formed by a Faculty Senate motion this June, is expected to submit its report by the end of this year.

Chinese history professor Thomas Mullaney, who represented the Faculty Senate’s Committee on Libraries at the June meeting, praised the committee’s recommendation to allow the fundraising, on Twitter, but added that its amount “should not be capped.”

“Let the press grow and stabilize itself PERMANENTLY,” Mullaney wrote.

Professor Jessica Riskin, vice-chair of the History Department and chair of the Committee on Libraries, applauded “the committee’s recommendation that the governance of the Press be restructured so as to restore an important role to the Academic Senate, both in appointing members of the new Advisory Board and in appointing the members of the Editorial Board,” she wrote to The Daily.

However, she shared her concerns over the lack of effectiveness in the committee’s recommendation for the administration’s financial support for the Press.

“A five-year ‘backstop’ of $1.5-1.7 million is insufficient — indeed for reasons detailed in the report itself — and I fear that this small amount of funding cannot support a successful campaign to carry out the report’s other recommendations,” Riskin wrote to the Daily.

“The world does not need Stanford University to provide another source of commercial books. The world needs Stanford University to provide scholarship and scholarly communication,” she added. 

Stanford has not responded to The Daily’s request for comment.

“My guess is that [Provost Drell] will make some decisions in early January,” wrote Provostial committee chair Judith Goldstein in an email to The Daily. “There were some fundamental shifts in organization suggested in the report. She would have to figure out how, when and if to do the re-org. Financial decisions are usually made a bit later.”

Contact Won Gi Jung at jwongi ‘at’

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