Kathryn Conrad

Valedictory Presidential Talk

Director, University of Arizona Press

June 2020

In a normal year, I would take this time to tell you about the work of the Association’s Board of Directors and some of its accomplishments.  

But this is not a normal year. 

On March 15, just days after the World Health Organization had declared COVID-19 a pandemic, the AUPresses Board of Directors convened online for its spring meeting. We spent our first hour together sharing the state of our presses and institutions while shutting down our offices to work from home. I think all of us will remember those strange early days and what would become the first of countless virtual meetings.

At that March meeting, we approved the Association’s Anti-Racism statement, a document developed over 18 months by the Association’s Diversity and Inclusion Task Force, chaired by Gita Manaktala and Larin McLaughlin, and its first Equity, Justice, and Inclusion Committee, chaired by Gita and Brian Halley. 

The statement recognizes the racist and exploitative practices that have shaped our institutions and our presses. It calls on us to confront the systems—the systems to which we belong–that perpetuate bias, inequalities, and white supremacy. 

Ten weeks later, the murder of George Floyd ignited a global movement for Black lives. In the midst of scrutiny of anti-Black racism in every corner of our society, our industry is called out for its inequity through the #PublishingSoWhite and #PublishingPaidMe hashtags and our own university press community is called out for our failure to support inclusion. It is a time of anger, hurt, and overwhelm. And here we are, at our 2020 Annual Meeting, trying to process all of this in a virtual environment that we will likely be stuck in for some time to come. 

The Association’s Annual Meeting has always been a source of inspiration for me. Last year, inspired by Chris Long’s closing plenary session in Detroit on the transformative power of values-based publishing, I led a deeper dive into our Association’s values with members of the board and staff. 

What do we mean when we say we hold Stewardship, Intellectual Freedom, Integrity, and Diversity and Inclusion as the values we strive to uphold? 

The mission of AUPresses is to advance the essential role of this global community of publishers whose mission is to ensure academic excellence and cultivate knowledge. Our values are the principles that guide us–our compass. At an historical moment that feels simultaneously riveting and overwhelming, a compass feels like a good thing to have. 

In our work this year, we recommitted to our values, first developed 5 years ago under the leadership of Barbara Kline Pope and Meredith Babb, and we developed common understanding of their meaning in our everyday work.  

We demonstrate Stewardship through our mindful investment in the development and dissemination of scholarship, respecting the fundamental labor of publishing. We amplify authors’ voices as we work to advance and preserve an inclusive scholarly record.

We embody Intellectual Freedom by promoting the emergence and evaluation of new theories, and by championing the freedom to think, research, publish, and read. These are the pillars of a democratic society. 

We demonstrate Integrity as leaders in peer review best practices and by earning the trust of our authors, our readers, and our institutions. 

We strive for equity, justice, and inclusion in our practices. And we endeavor to represent the breadth of human knowledge and experience as part of our commitment to Diversity and Inclusion

At a time that feels overwhelming, these values give us an organizational compass for navigating the road ahead, as individual presses and as an Association. Stewardship. Intellectual Freedom. Integrity. Diversity and Inclusion.

Guided by our values and by our strategic plan, updated last year under the leadership of Jennifer Crewe, our association has accomplished much this year in support of our goals of Collaboration, Advocacy, Research, Education, 

We established an Open Access task force, led by Erich van Rijn, to help build collaboration among our members around this increasingly important issue, and we have deepened our engagement with the Coalition for Diversity and Inclusion in Scholarly Communications [Collaboration]. We have redoubled our Advocacy efforts with a new Advocacy Committee, led this year by Meredith Babb, and with the Stand UP Award, a new advocacy award, spearheaded by Greg Britton. [Advocacy] We supported the expansion of the Lee and Low Diversity Baseline Survey to consider university presses more fully, and we increased our frequency of gathering of sales data from quarterly to monthly to help members navigate this volatile economic time [Research]. We have expanded opportunities for members to connect online to share knowledge and best practices. And we will soon launch a Global Presses Partnership Program, spearheaded by Anthony Cond. This program will bring together university presses in the Global South with AUPresses members to expand the knowledge base of our international university press community through the sharing of experience and practical education across borders. [Education]

Much of the work of this Association happens in its committees, made up of volunteers from across our membership. I cannot name them all but I would like to extend my deep thanks to the committee chairs and members for their work this year. 

Serving as AUPresses president has afforded me a remarkable opportunity to see what our Association is made of. I have seen the dogged determination of our Central Office staff, led by the ever-ready Peter Berkery, who tends to the myriad concerns of members, both individually and collectively, each day. I have seen the fierce support of our members for one another. I have seen the ingenuity of our marketers, who came together in recent months to support the independent bookstores that support us and to rally for the common cause of scholarship. I have seen our stellar Annual Meeting Program Committee, led by Laurie Matheson, turn on a dime to create a virtual meeting that will give our members actionable ideas, professional growth, and opportunities to meet new colleagues. I have seen a community of publishers that believes our collective efforts are greater than the sum of our parts. 

Our work is more important than ever. Thanks to the many volunteers who conducted the work of our Association this year, and thanks to each and every one of our members for the work that you do every day. 

Cuirimid le hobair bhunriachtanach phobal domhanda foilsitheoirí a bhfuil sé mar chuspóir acu barr feabhais acadúil a chinntiú agus saineolas a chothú.   

— AUPresses Mission Statement in Irish