Post-Book Academia: Save Ashgate

The Chronicle for Higher Education covered the “Save Ashgate” petition and movement, now with over 7000 signatures (which is a huge number for an academic publishing issue).

The company has not yet responded to the petitioners, according to Kathleen E. Kennedy, an associate professor of English at Pennsylvania State University-Brandywine. That silence speaks volumes, she says. “We hear that the neoliberal corporation will roll on profitably with us or without us,” she wrote in an online essay. “We are not part of their equation.”

Go read Kennedy’s essay for more.

What can we do, we who are silenced? We can organize. Unlike the campaign to restore University of Missouri’s press, a petition wasn’t enough to attract the attention of Taylor & Francis or Informa. But we can reach out to those university presses who continue to battle ever increasing austerity. We can encourage the brilliant presses at Ohio State, Minnesota, Penn State, and Yale, among others, to hire our beloved editors, and offer them space to nurture their series and their networks. We who are Ashgate (and that is clearly a lot of us) may flourish elsewhere, but only if we work hard to leverage our networks to make these rehomings possible. Our networks are what make a press valuable to us, and those we carry with us.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the ways in which academic can change in response to the shrinking options for book publishing. Books won’t go away. Elites will still publish in elite presses which are tied into elite institutions. But the lower tier universities will need to begin to think about redefining what “the book” means to their tenure and promotion structures. Open Access is fine, but the costs to the researcher is often intense. In Europe, large grant groups can build those into their grants. That doesn’t work for the American model.
Another model, of course, is to replace tenured teacher-scholars with adjuncts and lecturers. They don’t “need” to write books anyway. This is, I fear, how neoliberal America will continue to go. Our students will suffer, as we are better teachers when we participate in our disciplines as scholars.
So … much to watch here. I’ll be writing on these issues under my general heading, “Post-book academia.”

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