With the “publi…

Sam Black

With the “publish or perish” rule at major research institutions such as the University, a shift in the way university presses decide what to publish has endangered the traditional tenure-track of research instruction.
Publishing a scholarly book at a major university press is getting harder to do, said Lisa Freeman, director of publications at the University of Minnesota Press.
The University Press publishes more books and generates more revenue than in the past, Freeman said, but the books being published are money makers, not necessarily the most influential academic monographs.
“We focus on books with a broad appeal,” said Beverly Kaemmer, assistant director of the University Press. “We’re trying to appeal not only to the general public, but also across disciplines.”
Some low-demand scholarly manuscripts never see a binding, Freeman said, because the University Press is dealing with declining resources and shrinking book markets.
“We are starting to say no’ to books that would have done well even two years ago,” Freeman said.
Freeman is concerned that market demands are overshadowing the primary mission of university-sponsored publishing.
“The University is very good about funding research and the consumption of research, which is teaching,” Freeman said. “But they haven’t paid much attention to the distribution of research.
“It’ll become a noticeable problem when the junior faculty are trying to get things published for tenure and they can’t find anyone to do it,” Freeman said.
Since the first academic presses were founded in Cambridge and Oxford in 1584 and 1585, respectively, the bastion for scholarly publication has been the major university presses.
Such presses have historically been subsidized by their universities, Freeman said, but in the last 10 years or so, direct support has eroded.
The University allocated about $250,000 in 1990 to the University Press. This year, Freeman said the budget is about $100,000.
For years the University Press worked out of a campus building at 2037 University Ave. S.E., but in 1994, when the University made plans to demolish the building, the press moved into a commercial space in downtown Minneapolis.
Not only has University support faded for the University Press, but there are fewer grants from sources such as the National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities.
“These agencies used to specifically earmark grants for scholarly publication,” Freeman said. “But after federal budget cuts, university presses have had to compete with a host of different mediums for funding.”
At the same time presses try to adapt to shrinking budgets, they are forced to adapt to shrinking markets for scholarly books.
Reductions in research library budgets have reduced the numbers of serious monographs that can be published, Freeman said. In addition, research libraries are becoming more specialized and aren’t buying as wide a range of books as they once did.
“All of these factors came together at the same time. We had to look for something else,” Freeman said.
Freeman said the answer was to abandon the traditional scholarly works and seek out more commercially oriented books.
Many recent published volumes and series have focused on the Upper Midwest region. Subjects include regional history, cookbooks and anthologies of work written by Minnesotans.
These kinds of publications generate revenue that help support the production of less-popular scholarly books, Freeman said.
When publication at a university press doesn’t work out, authors increasingly turn to new media.
“There are a lot of people who think the answer to academic publishing is the Internet,” Freeman said.
Scholarly materials judged for academic advancement, however, are often rated by the reputation of the publisher, said professor Ed Fogelman, chairman of the political science department.
The World Wide Web introduces an interesting element to tenure review, Fogelman said.
“We’re talking about it and trying to sort it out, but there’s no real agreement for how (research published on the Internet) should be evaluated,” he added.
“Scholars pay more attention to someone who publishes at a university press versus a vanity press or on the Internet,” he said.
Fogelman said tenure committees are ultimately looking for signs that research has significant influence within the scholarly community, regardless of where it is published.