• August 29, 2015

Southern Methodist U. to Consider Reviving Its Press in a New Form

It's not quite the news that supporters of Southern Methodist University Press were hoping for, but some see room for hope in a statement issued today by Paul W. Ludden, the university's provost and vice president for academic affairs, concerning the threatened press's future.

Mr. Ludden confirmed that the press's operations would be suspended as of May 31, as announced early this month. He added, however, that the university would appoint a task force to look into whether it should have a press and, if so, what form it should take.

The announcement, in a statement circulated to "Interested Colleagues," came after prominent scholars including Abraham Verghese and fiction writers such as Madison Smartt Bell and Richard Russo, among others, wrote to protest the decision. SMU's Faculty Senate passed resolutions condemning the suspension and asking the university to review it.

"As a result of our initial decision to suspend operations, we have received many comments and offers of assistance to recreate the press in a positive, forward-looking manner," Mr. Ludden wrote.

He laid out four criteria that any future incarnation of the press must meet.

First, he wrote, "its structure and operations must reflect the technological advances that are sweeping the publishing industry."

Second, it must be financially sustainable.

Third, "any publishing decision must reflect the consideration of the marketplace response to the publication." (He did not elaborate on what "marketplace response" meant, and he was traveling Wednesday afternoon and not reachable for further comment.)

Fourth, the press "must continue to reflect the academic principles and standards of the university."

"If the university is to have a press going forward, it needs to be a model for academic presses of the future within this digital age," the provost wrote.

The members of the task force will be named soon, he said, and the university hopes to have a report by year's end. In the meantime, it intends to honor "all of our contractual obligations with authors as we go forward," Mr. Ludden said.

Russell L. Martin III, chairman of the SMU Press's advisory board and director of the university's library, and Keith Gregory, the press's director, told The Chronicle that they were not able to comment at this juncture.

Linda Eads, an associate professor of law and president of the SMU Faculty Senate, described herself as mildly optimistic about the provost's decision: "It's allowing the press to come up with a business plan that will perhaps allow it to survive, so I think it's a step in the right direction." Mr. Ludden, she said, is "not convinced he should keep it as is, but he's willing to give everyone time to see if it can be made into a viable entity."

The task force is likely to include SMU faculty members as well as people from outside the university with scholarly publishing experience, Ms. Eads added. She hopes that at least some of the press's staff members will be able to stay on in the interim.

"I'm not jumping up and down doing a dance," she said, "but it's a good step."


1. mark_long - May 20, 2010 at 10:57 am

This is some serious doublespeak here:

"In the meantime, it [SMU] intends to honor 'all of our contractual obligations with authors as we go forward,' Mr. Ludden said."

How can you be honoring contractual commitments to authors if you're not actively promoting, marketing, and selling their books? It sounds more like an attempt to keep the publishing rights from reverting back to authors--as well they should if SMU isn't operating a publishing operation--because if that happens their storied backlist will be gone forever to other publishers leaving SMU the unenviable task of starting over from scratch. And as an institution, how much credibility do they have now in attracting top flight authors?

2. 22108469 - May 20, 2010 at 11:14 am

Agree with comment #1. It sound like SMU is just trying to give the press a second chance to become something it never was or could be: a cold, hard cash machine.

3. kellman - May 20, 2010 at 11:45 am

"The announcement, in a statement circulated to 'Interested Colleagues,' came after prominent scholars including Abraham Verghese and fiction writers such as Madison Smartt Bell and Richard Russo...." Novelist and essayist Abraham Verghese is no more known as a scholar than are Madison Smartt Bell and Richard Russo.

4. jenhoward - May 20, 2010 at 02:02 pm

Kellman: Yes, Verghese is a novelist and essayist. He's also a tenured professor at Stanford's School of Medicine, where he's associate chair for the theory and practice of medicine. If you're curious, here's how he describes his current research interests (this is from Stanford Med School's website):

"My interest is in clinical skills and the bedside exam, both in its technical aspects, but also in the importance of the ritual and what is conveyed by the physician's presence and technique at the bedside. This work interests me from an educational point of view, and also from the point of view of ethnographic studies related to rituals and how they transform the patient-physician relationship."

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