University Press Advocacy: The Voice of Mississippi Scholars

Advocacy has always been a central function of AAUP. It's one of the three pillars of our mission, along with professional education and cooperative services. It's a significant endeavor: American university presses have been publishing for more than a century, and during that time, publishing has come a long way, universities have changed, and university presses have evolved right along with them. So it's a basic necessity that university presses continuously reiterate their place and importance in the academic world.

Sometimes that need is felt more strongly than at others. More often than not, for example, innovative new projects or collaborations provide an opportunity to promote the continuously growing capacity for scholarly communication at university presses. But crisis makes an easier headline, and the need for advocacy and awareness is especially heightened each time a university press faces closure, like the very visible battle last summer over the University of Missouri Press. (Key players from the Missouri episode will discuss the press's moment of crisis at the Annual Meeting in Boston.)

Serendipitously, the Missouri saga occurred while the planning for the first annual University Press Week was already underway, a campaign launched for the AAUP's 75th anniversary year intended to become an annual recognition and celebration of university presses. Goals for the inaugural week included demonstrating the broad, international reach of university presses; showing off some of our most significant projects; and illustrating how university presses fulfill the publishing needs of a variety of scholars.

Meanwhile, across the country, presses are looking for new ways to reach out to their constituents with their own tailor-made campaigns. That's what the University Press of Mississippi (UPM) has created this year with the Voice of Mississippi Scholars.

The University Press of Mississippi is one of a handful of consortium presses in the AAUP membership: it is the central university press for the state system, representing the scholarly communications of eight campuses. The press is not located on the grounds of any one campus—with offices about ten miles from the nearest, Jackson State—so it has to respond to the needs of eight campuses while also advocating for its central role against the span of geographical distance.

"We needed to find a very fast way [after the crisis at University of Missouri] to remind faculty at our eight supporting state universities why we matter and how we are a conduit, a bandwidth, a resource ... we are the voice that allows their university to say yes, we support scholarly publishing," says Steve Yates, Marketing Director. "Our board is very pleased with our progress and publications. But we need to make our worth more widely tangible, to put value in front of the public in Mississippi and the faculty and administrators on the campus. Any consortium press suffers from a creeping indifference and distance. We're sustainable, sure, but we need to be clearly valuable."

Thus the Voice of Mississippi Scholars campaign has two key targets: the reading public and Mississippi faculty. For the first, advertisements have been placed in two major magazines and the Mississippi Business Journal; for the second, through campus flyers and direct mail, and circulation during the press's annual campus visits. All focus on a common visual theme: the scholar at work. A half-page image captures a UPM-published author in action; the scene is overlaid with a quote of endorsement and underscored with bullet points about the press next to its logo and contact information. The eight variations represent faculty from each of the eight state campuses. For Mississippi, emphasizing each of the eight state campuses is central to the press's consortium identity.

One of the central ideas of the campaign is one that should resonate with any university press: whether or not faculty choose to publish with the press at their own university, they can value the significance of their home press as a beacon for the highest levels of scholarly communication. "With faculty we're trying to bridge that really difficult disconnect," says Yates: "'I may not publish with UPM, but UPM matters to the prestige of this campus...UPM is the tangible, valuable contribution my university makes to further scholarly communication.'"

Hear more from Steve Yates (Mississippi) and other university press staff about working with campus partners at the "Potential of Campus Collaborations" session at this year's Annual Meeting in Boston.

Regan Colestock
Communications Coordinator, AAUP