Duquesne University Press may be publishing its last works
For 90 years, books published by Duquesne University Press have helped build knowledge in fields that include specialty areas of humanistic psychology, continental philosophy, and medieval and Renaissance literary studies. Like nearly all academic presses, its book sales do not fully cover operating costs. The Press’ survival, therefore, long has depended on Duquesne’s willingness to subsidize an endeavor that raises the university’s profile by publishing high-quality works significant to their fields that might not find a commercial publisher. But Duquesne leaders say they no longer can justify the subsidy, which they put at $300,000 annually, and plan to close the Press later this year. That has upset scholars on and off campus who say the small Press is important beyond the 10 books it publishes a year. Groups from the Association of American University Presses to the Milton Society of America, devoted to study of the 17th century English poet John Milton, have added their voices to calls for Duquesne to reconsider. Provost Timothy Austin said Duquesne will honor existing Press commitments and work to ensure access to books on the Press’ publication list. “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,” he wrote to the campus Feb. 3. “In an era of cost containment, this is no longer a viable path.” In an interview Wednesday, Mr. Austin said Duquesne would consider alternatives to closing if the Press can break even. “We are absolutely open to listening to ideas, but we do have a bottom line: The bottom line is that $300,000 anchor has to be removed.” Created in 1927, the Press has published more than 500 works and garnered literary awards, said its director, Susan Wadsworth-Booth. “It’s really the world’s leading publisher in several pretty small but important scholarly fields,” said Greg Barnhisel, professor and English department chair. He said the Press, among its contributions, is the world’s leading publisher of scholarly works about Milton, known for works including his epic “Paradise Lost.” Experts say technology changes and increasingly tight university budgets are among the pressures facing academic presses. But the idea that many such presses are closing “is a common misconception,” said Darrin Pratt, president of the 141-member AAUP and director of the University of Colorado Press. A handful or so that have over the last two decades, he said, have been more than offset by new ones. Mr. Austin, himself an author published by an academic press, said the hard decision was needed for students and the university. Resources could be shifted to such pursuits as an expanded online graduate nursing program and efforts to help faculty get federal research grants. Plans to close the Press come even as a forthcoming title, “Reading the Torah: Beyond the Fundamentalist and Scientific Approaches” by Catherine Chalier, has just been named winner of a French Voices Award from the Cultural Services of the French Embassy and the PEN American Center. The Press’ five staff members “are disappointed and concerned about fulfilling our obligations to these authors and their works,” said Ms. Wadsworth-Booth.