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Willis Regier with Jeffrey J. Williams In Defense of Academic Publishing: An Interview with Willis Regier Willis Regier is the Director of the University of Illinois Press. This interview took place in the Chicago Hilton during the Midwest MLA convention on 9 November 2003. It was conducted by Jeffrey J. Williams, editor of minnesota review, and transcribed by Jason Arthur, editorial assistantfor the review and a doctoral student at University ofMissouri. Williams: By now ifs a familiar story that university press publishing is in dire straits, as there is less funding from home universities and more bottomline pressure. How do you see the state of university press publishing right now? Regier: Helen Tartar [formerly humanities editor at Stanford UP, now at Fordham] referred to the growing gap between the rich and the poor in universities and how that is also reflected in university presses. Ifs true the presses that have been around longer have established a stronger backlist and endowments or thefinancial supportofa well-endowed university and are much better placed to get through the current crisis than presses that are supported by state budgets. We can see this pretty clearly in what's happened to the University of California Press. Having thrived for years on trade publishing, ifs now encountered the same problem trade publishers encountered at the turn of the millennium: the very rapid contraction in sales. Suddenly, they had a lot of books they couldn't sell, and they had a deficit. They had to respond by cutting their list, and they haven't cut it simply in trade books but in academic monographs with small markets. Williams: One solution that MLA has proposed is that the requirements for tenure move away from books and more to articles. Lindsay Waters [humanities editor at Harvard UP] has particularly criticized academics for having foisted off their jobs evaluating tenure candidates onto presses. On the other hand, university presses are supposed to exist to accommodate scholarship. What do you think of the advice to shift tenure requirements? Regier: I don't have the statistics off the top of my head, but they indicate that the professoriate has not grown anything like the rate that the number of publications apparently has. Because it has been perceived that it is easier to publish books, more books have been required for tenure and promotion . This, I think, has been a vicious circle, and the best way to break it is to reduce the demands of quantity and to begin real assessment of tenure and review by the quality of the publication. I have spoken with administra- 194 the minnesota review tors about Lindsay Waters' proposal for reducing the quantifying aspects of tenure and promotion. To a person, they say that quantity is pretty much a suggestion, but that the actual evaluation of tenure and promotion is done on the basis of quality. Williams: I'm not sure if thafs entirely true. Ifs difficult to judge quality, but quantity is one thing you can readily measure. Regier: You're more involved in this than I am. I can certainly see that, for good reasons and bad excuses, tenure committees may not adequately come to terms with the materials they are provided for assessment. And that concerns me. But what I can see from where I sit is that the pressure put on academic authors to publish more has led to an inclination by the authors to spread their time over more projects, rather than to devote that time to making a project really good. What we come up with are two mediocre books where we might have one really good book. That seems to be a very bad trade off. Williams: One other factor in the shift in publishing is the shift in bookstores , the rise of the Barnes and Noble empire and so on, that are geared toward mega-sales. And then there's also Amazon, which has changed the way most people I know buy books. Regier: Those are different phenomena with different consequences that are now long-range enough that we can really begin to make some sensible assessments of them. The advent of the superstore has been treated with great...


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