Task force will determine future of Dartmouth College Press

by Elizabeth Janowski | 5/30/18 2:05am

Following last month’s vote by the University Press of New England board of governors to close down the 48-year-old publishing consortium, interim provost David Kotz ’86 and dean of libraries Susanne Mehrerhave called for the assembly of a task force to determine the future of the Dartmouth College Press.

According to a statement issued by Kotz and Mehrer, the task force — which held two meetings open to Dartmouth faculty and staff last week — will decide “whether Dartmouth, and its faculty, are best served by operating a press, or by directing funding toward direct support of faculty scholarship.”

In an interview with The Dartmouth, Kotz expressed interest in evaluating the merits of retaining the College Press in the wake of the UPNE’s closure.

“My goal from the beginning was to figure out two questions,” Kotz said. “One is, how do we support Dartmouth faculty scholarship? The other is how can we enhance Dartmouth’s academic reputation? If having a press is one way to really support that, then let’s do it.”

Members of Dartmouth faculty have previously voiced concern over the lack of communication with the administration prior to the decision to close the UPNE.

In a statement issued by members of Dartmouth’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors, the executive committee of the Dartmouth chapter wrote that “the decision affects dozens if not hundreds of us, principally those in book fields … Yet in this case most affected faculty … were not consulted as part of the decision-making process.”

Geisel School of Medicine and biology professor Lee Witters, one of the document’s authors, noted the importance of faculty involvement in the administrative oversight of institutions such as the College Press.

“I really want to see a broader input of the faculty to the strengths and specialties of the institution,” Witters said. “Presidents turn over pretty frequently, but the institutional memory in any university or college allies with the faculty.”

Women and gender studies, comparative literature and Italian professor Graziella Parati moderated the task force’s meetings, which were held on May 22 and May 23. Among those in attendance were art history professor Ada Cohen, English professor Donald Pease, associate dean for the sciences and computer science and mathematics professor Daniel Rockmore and film studies and media professor Mark Williams, who have all previously published work through the UPNE. Four members of the UPNE, including production coordinator Doug Tifft, also attended the sessions.

Tifft voiced his concern over the feasibility of supporting future scholarly publications at Dartmouth in the absence of the University Press.

“This has had a direct impact in some cases with Dartmouth professors’ books now looking for a publisher,” Tifft said. “They’ve kept the Dartmouth College Press imprint, but does that have any meaning? We are curious to find out.”

Tifft also expressed his concern over the lack of faculty attendance at last week’s task force meetings, as well as a general decline in Dartmouth’s publishing activity through the Press in recent years.

The UPNE, which at one point was comprised of 10 member institutions, retained only Dartmouth and Brandeis University as members at the time of its closure. Tifft added that while Brandeis published a successful and robust array of Jewish studies texts through the University Press, the Dartmouth College Press typically published only around eight books per year. He cited a lack of faculty participation in the College Press as a primary factor in the UPNE’s dissolution.

Kotz said the task force should analyze the marketability of the Dartmouth College Press’ texts as most academic monographs published through the Press typically have a narrow audience and sell few copies.

According to Tifft, the cost of the production and distribution of these texts totaled approximately $400,000 annually.

In response to concerns over financial sustainability, the task force has considered directing the College Press’s focus from print to digital publishing. Kotz said he encouraged the task force to seek options for the Press that “might be better suited to the 21st century.”

The task force plans to hold two more meetings to assess the viability of the College Press in the following week. It is then scheduled to send a list of recommendations to the provost by November.