The Duquesne University Press will shut down later this year, an “unexpected” decision that is already facing pushback from scholars.
Timothy R. Austin, provost and vice president for academic affairs, informed press staffers about the decision on Friday. He sent a statement to the campus later that day, describing the decision as a cost-cutting measure. The press receives an annual subsidy north of $200,000.
“In the context of rapid changes in the world of scholarly publishing, Duquesne has been far from alone in having to confront the challenging question of whether it could afford to continue to underwrite the costs of a press,” Austin said in the statement. “In recent years, the press has been unable to attract sales adequate to cover its costs and the university has committed large sums to subsidizing its operation. In an era of cost containment, this is no longer a viable path.”
The small press, which specializes in Continental philosophy, humanistic psychology and medieval and Renaissance literature studies, publishes about 10 books a year — enough to cover its operating costs, but not its salaries and graduate assistantships, press director Susan Wadsworth-Booth said.
Sales have remained more or less flat over the last couple of years, though the press, which turns 90 this year, experienced a period of disruption last year when it was forced to find a new vendor for distribution and warehouse services. With that issue resolved, however, Wadsworth-Booth said she was hopeful the situation would improve.
“It was unexpected,” Wadsworth-Booth said. “I indicated to the administration that we would be happy to discuss some plans to cut costs and maintain the imprint — perhaps just concentrating on our most successful subject areas, but they indicated that was not the path they wanted to take.”
Others at the university involved in running the press said they, too, were still dealing with the news. Erik Garrett, an associate professor in the department of communication and rhetorical studies who serves on the press’s advisory board, said he was still in “shock” from Friday’s announcement. As recently as the Monday before the announcement, he said, the press was notified that one of its titles had won the French Voices Award, which is presented by the Cultural Services of the French Embassy and the PEN American Center.
Garrett also expressed a willingness to work with the administration to save the press.
Wadsworth-Booth said the press will continue to operate at least through the end of May — perhaps longer — to fulfill its existing obligations.
News of a protest began to spread over the weekend, with some faculty members, researchers and staffers with other university presses pointing to the campaign that saved the University of Missouri Press from closure. The University of Missouri System in 2012 announced plans to shut down the press for financial reasons, but the press survived — and continues to operate today — after moving to the flagship campus at Columbia.
“That’s a very different situation,” Wadsworth-Booth said about the comparison. “We’re very unlike Missouri.”
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Duquesne joins the many university presses that in the face of mounting financial difficulties have closed down or come dangerously close to doing so over the last several years. Even some presses at larger universities are feeling those same pressures.
Many defenders of university presses question the idea of cutting them for failing to be self-sustaining, noting that presses promote a central mission of higher education — the dissemination of knowledge. Others note that colleges rely on university presses — not only on their own campus, but elsewhere — to publish works that help launch the careers of scholars.
Peter Berkery, executive director of the Association of American University Presses, said in a statement that the organization is monitoring the situation at Duquesne.
“Like most members of the scholarly communications ecosystem, AAUP was alarmed to learn that Duquesne University has announced plans to close its press,” Berkery said. “The association is in the process of gathering additional information in order to determine whether, as is so frequently the case, an alternative to closure may be possible.”
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