Let’s Stay Together: A Taxonomy of Relationships between American University Presses and their Host Institutions

University of Georgia Press Director Lisa Bayer recently shared the opening keynote with Timothy Wright, Director of Edinburgh University Press at the University Press Redux 2018, hosted by UCL Press and ALPSP at the British Library in London, February 13-14. Here is the transcription of Lisa’s talk: 

A few years ago Peter Berkery, the then-new executive director of the association formerly known as the AAUP, visited the University of Georgia Press. He was engaged in a multi-year “listening tour” that took him to most of the home offices of the 141 member presses. Unfortunately, Peter’s schedule put him in Georgia in July, which, if you’ve ever been to the American South between May and September, you know can be climatically challenging. We were determined to demonstrate our best hospitality, though, so kicked off his visit with a cocktail party, as one does. The party was at the home of a longtime Press supporter, a grand dame of Athens whose forebear was a colonial governor of Georgia and a close friend of George Washington.


Love Shack B52s, original mixed media collage print, LexiconofLove (Etsy).

Peter and I were in a group that included members of the Press’s faculty board, advisory council, staff, and the Associate Provost and University Librarian (who is also my boss). A historian who is also a Press author turned to me and asked: “Lisa, do you consider the Press to be a book publisher or a unit of the university?”

I stalled before answering by tending to my gin and tonic. If I recall correctly, I think that I answered “book publisher”  because I somehow thought in the moment that it was the more respectable answer. I’d much rather be considered a serious book publisher, a curator of complex scholarly thought and literature, of history and culture, than be reduced to an entry on an institutional org chart. However, the question, or rather my answer, has haunted me since. And after nearly six years as a press director, today I would say that you cannot separate the two identities.What I understand now is that when the AUP changed its name, it removed “American,” not “university press,” because the latter is the value in our association. I’d change my response based on what I now know about institutional mission, strategic direction, network, support, and a host of other reasons.

First, though, a bit more about the University of Georgia Press: founded in 1938, we are marking 80 years of publishing this year. The oldest and largest publisher in the state, we are a part of the University of Georgia, the flagship institution in the University System of Georgia. UGA enrolls over 36,500 students, including nearly 30,000 undergraduates and over 6,000 graduate students. Chartered in 1785, UGA is the first state-chartered public university in the U.S. It offers over 200 majors and programs in 17 schools and colleges. Athens is 90 miles northeast of Atlanta, nearly into South Carolina, and about four hours from the Atlantic coast. Our small city of 120,000 people has been described as a “drinking town with a music problem,” as it’s home to a few bands including REM, the Drive-by Truckers, Widespread Panic, of Montreal, and the B-52s.


The Press publishes 60 new books annually, with 1,800 books in print. Our staff numbers 21 FTEs with 10-12 student interns and graduate assistants hosted annually. Our list encompasses four types of content: scholarly books in the humanities and social sciences; regional trade including natural history, guidebooks, cookbooks, and art and architecture; creative works of short fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction; and digital projects, namely the New Georgia Encyclopedia, the oldest born-digital state encyclopedia in the U.S.

UGA is both a land- and sea-grant institution, meaning that it received federal support at its founding, thus its mission includes service to and research on the state and its 100-mile Atlantic coast. As a unit of the university, the press shares this charge.We have a two-fold mission to publish the highest quality scholarship, as well as books for the citizens of the state, hence our large and vibrant regional publication list that includes Snakes of the Southeast; Georgia Odyssey: A Short History of the State; and my current favorite, The Southern Foodways Alliance Guide to Cocktails.

 In 2011, the Press’s reporting line was moved from the Provost to the university library. The Provost who made the decision, who is now the President of the University, told me that he wanted to reduce his reporting lines and had heard of other universities (namely Michigan) moving their presses to their libraries. With this organizational change, the Press was now part of the largest unit on campus and less likely to be vulnerable to budgetary decisions made at the state level that, for instance, the University Press of Kentucky is dealing with right now.


“The act of researching and writing
[my own book] contributed greatly to my own intellectual growth. I also was left with a greater appreciation for the work of university presses, including our own at UGA.”
Dr. Toby Graham  
University Librarian and Associate Provost

In the seven years since our reporting line changed, we’ve physically moved our offices into the main library on the historic north campus, a move that’s benefited us and the libraries in a number of ways. We are closer to faculty, administrators, and academic units and are much  more visible on campus than when we were located in a business park outside the city perimeter. Proximity equals visibility, one of the most important aspects of building a strong relationship with your host institution. I and members of my staff can now more easily serve on campus committees, meet with faculty authors and series editors, attend campus events such as the President’s State of the University address and charter lecture series, and host student interns and visiting classes. As part of the Library at UGA, we now have 300 colleagues rather than 20. The Library provides us with shared services including IT, Human Resources, Development, a mailroom, copying services, and meeting spaces large and small. We have also collaborated with the Libraries on symposia based on our books, specifically The Charleston Syllabus, and on a new Digital Humanities lab co-located by the press, as well as special collections exhibits and events featuring our authors.

Perhaps most important, I have a supportive boss who has a keen appreciation for university presses both as a librarian and as a scholar whose own book was published by a university press. I am lucky to have a supportive supervisor in Dr. Graham, but I also work hard at maintaining that relationship. It’s important to constantly educate, inform, and share news both good and bad. No surprises.


The Press has always enjoyed strong support, both programmatic and financial, from the university. But we all know that politics are no longer “as usual” in any sense, in my country or yours; and no press director can afford to take support and, realistically, mere existence, for granted.  Another strategy that we employ at Georgia to solidify our relationship with both the university and the state is by partnering with a plethora of Georgia-based organizations, just some of which are displayed here. From other colleges and universities to the state humanities and arts councils and historical society, from museums and botanical gardens to state agencies, we look for viable projects, both print and digital, that fit our mission and embed us further in the culture. At the same time, we also have secured grants and funding from national funders of the arts and humanities including the Mellon Foundation and the NEH, which also raises our profile within the university’s emphasis on research funding. One of the lessons learned via the economic crises of this new century, especially for mission-driven, not-for-profit organizations, both inside and outside the academy, is that collaboration is not optional. 

In preparing to speak to you today, I wanted to consider my experience at the University of Georgia, alongside that of my peers at other presses. In a survey of the 141 member presses of the AUP, thirty-one percent (44) of press directors on the AUP listserv responded to questions about institutional relationships, including mission-driven activities, reporting lines, unit placements, budgetary support, and campus involvement. Not surprisingly, we are a varied bunch. The 2016 AUP Biennial Reporting Structure Survey found that 32% of presses surveyed report to the Chief Academic Officer or Provost, while 22% reported to the Library. Nearly 20% of the presses surveyed report to “Other,” with many of those reporting to the university’s research office. Nearly equal numbers reported to independent boards and presidents/CEOs/executive directors, with the final smattering divided among finance/administration; graduate schools; and the ominous (or perhaps enviable) “No Answer.”

Regardless of reporting line, 43 out of 44 presses responding to my survey said that they purposely align their mission and publishing activities to some degree with those of their host institution. Responses included “Both disciplinary (we try and align with strong disciplines on campus) and ethically (we try and think about ways that we can align with the library’s vision around accessibility).” And: “We align our strategic planning with the strategic planning of the university as a whole. We champion the same values as the university as a whole, and position ourselves as a reflection and a disseminator of the university’s research mission. We also echo the (Vice-Chancellor’s) role in engaging the public.” I’ve heard much more about engaging the public from UPs in the past ten years than ever before, which is part of a desire to establish relevance both within and beyond the academy.

Along the same lines, another director responded that their publication list supports “the university’s strategic plan goal to translate and amplify the work of the university to our local communities.” Another press director mentioned their program’s focus on “the priorities of the U’s strategic plan . . . and to major policies, such as indigeneity and inclusiveness.” Finally, from a newly established university press, “(W)e look for ways to actively work on publishing initiatives that support the university’s strategic directives: conference proceedings, OER, textbook affordability, university journals.” These responses remind me of a few weeks ago, when I sat beside Toby Graham at the recent President’s State of the University address. As President Morehead outlined his 2018 initiatives, both Toby and I were scribbling notes as to how the library and the press, respectively, could align our annual goals and activities with the university’s. Not everything lines up with our own programmatic goals, but the administration’s emphasis on writing in the curriculum, experiential learning, data literacy, and innovation are all elements of the internships, assistantships, and digital humanities work going on in the Press.

I also queried my colleagues about their engagement with teaching and learning activities such as  teaching classes; hosting internships, graduate assistantships, or apprenticeships for students; and conducting publishing workshops for faculty and graduate students. Unsurprisingly, over 90% responded affirmatively to these questions. Responses included providing guidance on alternate careers for researchers (what some call “alt-ac”); offering faculty-focused Scalar and Faculty Commons workshops; training users of the Library’s digital journal platform; and hosting an undergraduate MIS class and an MBA class, each of which spent a semester working on projects for the Press.  At Georgia, our efforts include our art director regularly working with a journalism graphic design class on designing book covers for backlist titles and annual presentations for humanities students interested in publishing as a career.

In response to a question about providing textbooks, Open Education Resources, or other teaching resources for your campus/system, only 45% replied yes to some degree, so over half of the respondents are not involved in these sorts of efforts on campus. This points to the wildly varying efforts in each state around affordable learning. The state of Georgia allocated $3.5M for affordable learning efforts a few years ago. The Press submitted a proposal to make three of our backlist Georgia history titles most used in undergraduate history courses into the program, which made them available as open access ebooks via the statewide information system. We received fair compensation for this content and are now discussing a larger digital backlist project with our university library. But there is no consistent national effort around OER; like most education efforts, it’s typically rather fragmented on a state by state basis and seems to have involved some level of duplication of effort in terms of experimentation and success.


What did press directors say were the biggest benefits in their relationship with their host institution? Forty-two percent of the respondents indicated that the institutional network of experts, advocates, and connectors is by far the most valuable benefit to their institutional relationship with their host campus. “Building relationships across campus has increased the press’s profile as a resource for faculty and students on publishing and scholarly communications issues. The press has become increasingly valuable to a much wider swathe of people as we have more effectively leveraged our relationship with the University.” Other directors mentioned “collaborations with other innovators on campus, mainly in the area of technology,” as well as “interaction with an engaged faculty . . . [who have] been a good resource for knowledge regarding developments in scholarship and many are also involved in the local community.” At Georgia we have found it important to tend to both town and gown relationships, as part of the public land-grant mission.

Another director said, “The biggest benefits come through the Board of Trustees and our indirect connection through them to the faculty. For that reason, we spend a lot of time on care and feeding of trustees, and making sure we have a healthy rotation and continue to involve them with the press even after they are no longer trustees.” This response touches on both governance and fundraising.  Owing primarily to the decline of state and federal investment in higher education, nearly all U.S. universities and colleges have energetic and highly organized development divisions.  The university’s advancement office and the contacts, systems, and capacity it provides can be very helpful in establishing a successful fundraising program for a university press, large or small. Georgia’s Advisory Council, established about twelve years ago, is made up of 25-30 well-connected Georgians, many of whom are graduates of the university, but all of whom have a vested interest in supporting and advancing the press. Our approach is a combination of fundraising and friendraising, and having access to the library’s development team has been invaluable in creating a successful fundraising program for the press that makes up 10% of our annual budget.

A quarter of those surveyed said that support (financial and shared services) was the biggest benefit to their relationship with their host institution, which may be indicative of the reduction or elimination of budgetary support for many presses in recent decades. Almost as many indicated that the institutional brand was extremely valuable in their efforts to recruit authors, sign books, and establish credibility.


 Finally, I asked directors to name their biggest institutional challenge. Not surprisingly, given the diversity among the presses in the AUP membership, the answers seemed to vary much more than the responses to the benefits question. Respondents named challenges involving visibility and financial support; relationships specifically with administrators and/or faculty; the challenges of doing business in a non-business environment; and the press’s work not being among institutional priorities, as well as our old friend, bureaucracy. I would argue, however, that all of these issues underscore the importance of relationship building within your home institution. You can’t focus solely on your boss, since, as one survey response put it, “Once you get a cretin as a dean, it’s impossible.”And you can’t rely only on your faculty authors and/or board of trustees, or provost or library dean or your development officer: you must rely in varying degrees on all of them.


Mark Catesby, The Painted Finch and the Loblolly Bay, c. 1722-6

So: Successfully surviving and even thriving in the institutional ecosystem requires regular interaction with all creatures and habitats therein. Apologies for trotting out what may be a tired metaphor at this point in the presentation, but I needed a good transition to a natural history anecdote. On Sunday I went to the British Museum, otherwise known as the place you go to see other people’s stuff. While there I came upon several original watercolors by 18th century British naturalist Mark Catesby, whose meticulous artistic recording of the southeastern colonial coast and the Bahamas is discussed in our 2015 book The Curious Mister Catesby. Among Catesby’s many stunning images is a painted finch in a loblolly tree, which also illustrates perfectly this closing quote from Meredith Babb, former AUP president. In her 2015 presidential address, Meredith said: “When you think of a scholarly press, we are a rare finch in the university ecosystem. Each of us should challenge our administrators to find a more adaptive, innovative, mission-driven unit on the campus. Collaborating is what university presses do; adaptation is our strength and resilience.”

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