The University of Akron Press, which became vulnerable amid budget cuts at the University of Akron, is now drawing support from administrators. After supporters of the press waged a vigorous campaign protesting a perceived abandonment of the publisher by its university, officials from the school have affirmed that UA will continue to support the press. The officials also noted that the school has re-hired two of the publisher's three full-time employees.
In a conference call on Wednesday evening that included UA Press transitional director Jon Miller, UA chief marketing officer Wayne Hill, and UA provost William "Mike" Sherman, the three reiterated what UA president Scott Scarborough announced on Monday afternoon: the press will continue to be a “vibrant, active academic press” and a full member of the AAUP, which requires that a scholarly press have a minimum of three full-time employees (or the equivalent), including a director.
The university has now re-hired, as of earlier this week, editorial/design coordinator Amy Freels and production coordinator Carol Slatter. Mary Biddinger, an English professor who acted as UA Press’ poetry editor, agreed on Tuesday to continue in that capacity, which is a part-time position. Thomas Bacher, the press’ director since 2008, will leave the press after his contract expires in January.
"AAUP staffing requirements will be fulfilled," Hill promised, pointing out that staffing this fall will be higher than in previous years.
UA English professor Jon Miller is serving as the transitional director on a half-time basis for the 2015-2016 school year. During this period of transition, Miller said, "we'll figure out" how to move the press into the future. The division of libraries, which the press is being folded into, will undergo a strategic planning process this fall that will include the future direction of the press and its leadership.
The press will, Miller said, "continue doing what we've done." It will publish books currently under contract, as well as continue to acquire titles, publish them, and promote them in the marketplace. Miller added that his vision for UA Press during his year at the helm includes "getting more students involved, more faculty involved" in its daily operations. Plans also include the hiring of a graduate student assistant.
For many, it seems, this recent turn of events bodes well for the press. Biddinger agreed to resume her duties as UA Press’ poetry editor only after receiving a written statement from university administrators “articulating [the university’s] investment in the future of the press" beyond 2016. Now, she said, "I have a lot of confidence in the health of the press."
For Rebecca Hazelton, who with Alan Michael Parker, is the editor of The Manifesto Project, which is scheduled for publication by UA Press in 2016, the recent turn of events has meant she's gone from protester back to supporter. Last week Hazelton circulated a letter among the press's authors protesting the changes made at the press; more than 40 authors had signed on to it by the time the news broke that the staff had been rehired. Now, Hazelton is sticking with the publisher; she said Biddinger’s retention as poetry editor, in large part, convinced her and Parker to remain under contract.
John McNay, a professor at the University of Cincinnati and president of the Ohio chapter of the American Association of University Professors, said what happened with UA Press stands as a reminder of how things can work when a fissure develops between a school and its scholarly publishing unit. In an email, he wrote: “We regularly encourage faculty to understand that they are not as powerless as they often feel. If faculty speak together, loudly, and clearly, it is possible to get our universities to re-focus on our research and instructional mission.”
While applauding the university’s rehiring of press employees and its public statement of support for the press, UA Press’ nine-member editorial board asked Scarborough and Sherman in a letter dated August 19 to also affirm the university’s investment to the press “well into the future and that the Press’s financial needs will be addressed in the annual budgeting process.” Such a declaration, the editorial board members wrote, will be essential to both current and future UA Press authors “who want to be assured that the University is committed to the future of the Press.”
Correction: An earlier version of this article identified John McNay as being affiliated with the American Association of University Presses; he is, in fact, affiliated with the American Association of University Professors.