I am pleased to submit this report on the extraordinary Fiscal Year 2020-21 of the Association of University Presses (AUPresses). It’s my ninth report as your Executive Director, but it covers a year unlike any other. While our US and UK members begin to see a light at the end of the tunnel in terms of returning to some version of a pre-pandemic normal, by and large the world remains a very uncertain place. Our community—its members, its leaders, the staff that serves it—has demonstrated remarkable resilience in the face of that uncertainty, and I believe in this year’s report you will gain a singular sense of our strength, individually and collectively.
The Association maintained a stable membership base in FY21; as of this writing the AUPresses membership stands at 156 presses. During the period, we welcomed one new member and approved the transition to permanent status for a record six Introductory members. The latter represents the acceleration of a trend that appears to have arisen since our 2017 bylaws change extending the term for Introductory membership from three to five years, and that I would posit demonstrates the wisdom of that change.
The Association as a whole strives to focus on the strategic goals established by the Board of Directors with the support of an extraordinary Central Office staff. This team of dedicated professionals moves from strength to strength; I am in awe of their capabilities and commitment—now, under the difficulties of the current moment, more than ever. They remain the most high-functioning team I’ve ever worked with. It continues to be a privilege to work with each and all of them.
While the future remains as uncertain here as elsewhere, I am grateful to report that the Association’s operations and finances continue to be stable and healthy. AUPresses posted an annual net operating loss of $84,369, slightly off our budgeted -$76,270 figure. More importantly, thanks to the indefatigable efforts of our business manager Kim Miller, the Association qualified for two Payroll Protection Program loans during FY21. As of this writing, one of those has been forgiven. Kim has heard expressions of gratitude from her colleagues and our leadership many times already, but they merit repeating here. As always, I refer you to the Operating Statement and Balance Sheet for complete details of our financial performance.
Over the past year I have represented AUPresses at virtual meetings of the Association of Research Libraries (ARL), Book Industry Study Group (BISG), Coalition for Networked Information (CNI), the Charleston Conference, Academic Publishing in Europe (APE), the Library Publishing Forum, and the National Information Standards Organization (NISO). I also have participated in virtual publishing conferences organized by the Library Publishing Coalition (LPC), the George Washington University Publishing Program, Open Athens, and the International Publishers Association (IPA); attended the Project MUSE Publishers Meeting, P2L4, the annual Toward an Open Monograph Ecosystem (TOME) Summit, the Society for Scholarly Publishers (SSP), and the Association of Learned & Professional Society Publishers (ALPSP). You’ll find details of other service to partners in the larger publishing and scholarly communities in the Peer Organizations and Global Community sections of this report.
In a tumultuous year that somehow remained awash in Association activity, there are three areas of community focus that I believe merit specific mention in this report: (1) our efforts to help members deal with the pandemic, (2) our continuing work to increase equity, justice, and inclusion, and, (3) the continued expansion of our member advocacy efforts. Each of these initiatives (along with many others) and their importance to our community is treated in-depth elsewhere in this report, but I did want to share a few personal observations.
For the AUPresses staff, the initial pivot last March to work-from-home was more of a non-event—we’d been doing it since the Central Office went virtual almost five years ago! There were no scrambles to get office equipment home, to reinvent workflows on the fly. We quickly began, however, to find ourselves forced to navigate the same new terrain as everyone else: family members invading our home offices, Zoom home-schooling, and a complete unraveling of our carefully calibrated work/life balance. And this, of course, all was in the early days, well before pandemic fatigue set in. We made our best efforts to adapt to the new reality: quickly expanding the schedule for our popular hangouts platform and adjusting the staff workflow to accommodate it, nimbly pivoting to a virtual annual meeting, successfully renegotiating two hotel contracts, and reformatting the Association’s annual business meeting.
Equity, justice, and inclusion are central to the Association’s core values. The murder of George Floyd in May, and the worldwide protests for racial justice that followed, unquestionably have shifted the fulcrum for millions of individuals and organizations, including member presses both here in the US and around the globe. The extraordinary productivity of our Equity, Justice, and Inclusion Committee, and of the Central Office staff supporting their efforts, bears witness to our deepened commitment to combatting systemic racism. I was particularly grateful that in November, AUPresses was able to offer the Racial Equity Institute’s highly regarded Groundwater Workshop to approximately 175 members of our community in leadership positions within the Association and at our individual member presses. I expect these efforts to accelerate in the “Aftertimes.” The piloting of a new Global Partner Program merits mentioning in the context of our core value of Inclusion, as well. I hope that the pilot proves successful, and that we are able to expand the program in 2022.
Finally, I’m pleased to note that our external communications capabilities continue to mature. Op-eds and “think pieces” are appearing regularly in key industry publications, such as Re-envisioning Humanities Infrastructure by Charles Watkinson and Melissa Pitts, which appeared in Inside Higher Ed in February. Our visibility with peer organizations is increased; for example, members of our community presented a session at the virtual National Humanities Conference on University Presses as Partners for Public Engagement (as described in this blog post) and also collaborated with the National Humanities Alliance on a working paper about public humanities and publication. Our new Ask UP program is carrying our message to an expanded audience of scholar-authors. And at the grassroots level, we continue to work quietly behind the scenes when a member press is facing acute or even vague existential threat—however our support can be most conducive to a positive outcome for the member press facing risk. We’ve written to provosts, state legislators, and others, offering tailored responses to each unique situation.
It is my custom each year to close this report with a reminder that the Association stands ready to support and assist any member facing adversity—a reminder that has served at least three member presses during the current fiscal year—and I hope all of you continue to keep this member service in mind. But, given the extraordinary circumstances of the months encompassing our Fiscal Year, I think it is only right and proper to end this report on a different note.
The Association, our board, volunteer committees, and staff all adjusted, recalibrated, and responded exceptionally, helping many of us to get through this past year. We ramped up our hangouts, convened Community Reads, issued statements in response to the Trump Administration’s most egregious assaults on our community’s core values, developed codes and toolkits aimed at making our community a safer and more equitable space, pivoted two annual meetings to a virtual format, and so on. The work was essential, but frequently it was draining, and difficult, and it came with losses at all scales. We see hope in so much that so many have done, while also knowing that a full accounting of both the costs and the victories of this last year will require considerable time. May we find good and just lessons in all that we are still working through, and may the values and valuable work of university presses contribute to that understanding.
Executive Director, AUPresses