Classics Professor Richard Martin delivering to the Faculty Senate the report of its ad hoc committee on the Stanford University Press. (Image credit: Farrin Abbott)

The Faculty Senate on Thursday heard from the leaders of two faculty committees that have recently completed reports on the future of the Stanford University Press – one convened by the senate and another convened by Provost Persis Drell.

In recent months, the two committees – the Senate Ad Hoc Committee on the Stanford University Press and the Provostial Committee on the Future of the Stanford University Press – have been discussing pressing issues facing the Press, including faculty engagement, governance, funding and its vision for the future.

While the reports differ in scope, they share the same goals: to create new and stronger relationships between the Press and the faculty and administration of Stanford, to put the nonprofit publisher on a firm financial footing, and to ensure that the Press will thrive.

The provostial committee, convened in the spring, completed its work in October and shared its findings with the senate’s ad hoc committee, which was convened in the fall.

The two committee chairs who spoke at the meeting were Richard Martin, a professor of classics and chair of the senate ad hoc committee, and Judith Goldstein, a professor of political science and chair of the provostial committee.

Ad hoc committee chair’s presentation

At the beginning of his presentation, Martin praised the Press:

“Stanford University Press, helmed by Alan Harvey’s excellent leadership, is a stalwart institution that produces thoughtful, groundbreaking and exquisitely made academic volumes – the aesthetic is important,” he said.

“Furthermore, it has advanced far beyond any existing academic press in its implementation of digital publishing and development of born-digital texts, a sophisticated innovation that no other press catalog offers at the scale of Stanford University Press. And, as if we needed a reminder, it serves a wide range of scholarly fields, has aided scholars in their careers and indeed plays a vital role in the university’s mission.”

Martin said the number one thing missing from the Press, in addition to appropriate levels of funding, is sufficient faculty engagement.

“That seems to have slipped away at SUP,” he said. “It is true that there is the editorial board, and that faculty, of course, are authors, reviewers, series editors, but they’re not in a position to see a vision of the whole – as Plato would talk about it.”

He said the ad hoc committee recommended that the senate immediately create a new standing committee of the Academic Council – to be known as the Committee on the Press – that would be dedicated to overseeing and advising the Press.

He said the ad hoc committee also recommended that the provost work closely with the new committee to set up a governing board for the Press, and that an existing senate committee – the Committee on Committees – appoint members of the Press’ editorial board.

He compared the three committees of the proposed new structure to the three corners of a triangle.

“Each corner does a different function,” he said. “The editorial board, as you know, approves manuscripts and is engaged in the approval process and looks very closely at manuscripts. But it’s not going to do what the Board of Governors, as proposed, would do, which is to be a kind of business, long-term, strategic advisory board – a very good idea, we think. But they too will not have the vision of the whole, which the senate committee will have. This will be faculty members who are tasked with being not just ambassadors for the press, but connecting with and speaking to regularly at their meetings the other two corners. That, in a nutshell, is the new structure.”

However, a motion to create a standing senate Committee on the Press failed on a divided vote.

After a short discussion about the possibility of creating an ad hoc, fixed-term committee, instead of a standing committee, the senate passed a new motion asking the Committee on Committees to prepare a recommendation on the idea, in consultation with the members of the two faculty committees that have been deliberating on the future of the Press.

Provostial committee recommendations

In the discussion, Judith Goldstein, chair of the provostial committee, said the university’s goal is to have a Press of the highest quality. The question, she said, is how to get there.

The provostial committee made a series of recommendations for the Press: The Press should report directly to the provost and to a Stanford budget officer; Stanford should continue to offer a financial backstop for the Press for at least five years; and the Press should develop a long-term strategic plan and file an annual report.

In addition, on the question of governance and faculty engagement, the provostial committee recommended that the provost should create and appoint the members of an advisory board, and that a standing committee of the senate should select the members of the Press’s editorial board.

“The best use of the faculty is to help with the intellectual direction of the press,” Goldstein said. “What are the new ideas? What are the best projects? We think that a committee exists to do that and that is the editorial board. It hasn’t been working and it needs to be reinvigorated so as to fulfill that purpose. This is the group that needs to be accountable and appointed by the Faculty Senate.”

Goldstein said the committee recommended creating an advisory board to help the Press and the provost, because running a university press is a particular profession. The board would include outside directors of presses, as well as faculty and administrators, she said.

In addition to discussing the governance of the Press, members of the senate discussed recommendations from the two committees about funding, including the prospect of a fundraising campaign for the Press.

The full minutes of the senate meeting, including discussion that followed the presentations, will be posted on the Faculty Senate website. The next senate meeting is scheduled for Jan. 23.