Stepping into the “Berkery Administration”: A Note from our Incoming Director

When the Central Office proposed that I write a short piece for the Winter edition of the Exchange, my reaction of course was enthusiastic. After all, I'm eager to hit the ground running, and the timing of this issue should coincide well with my March 1 start date. Then the reality of the task set in: how exactly does one virtually introduce oneself in a setting such as this? Talk about my background? Highlight my aspirations for the association and for my role in leading it? My hobbies? Astrological sign?

Ultimately, of course, the answer is, "all of the above." (Well, almost all of the above!) As is so often the case, the real trick lays not so much in the tale itself but in the telling of it–striking the right balance between levity and gravitas, humility and pride, conviction and open-mindedness.

Cataloguing the past generally is a less risky endeavor than predicting the future, so I'll begin with the easy stuff: I come to the AAUP after twenty years in the publishing industry, mainly in professional publishing, with the past four at Oxford University Press. Serendipitously, I came to the publishing industry after five years in association management, with both trade and professional associations down in Washington DC. I've remarked often in recent weeks that with this new role my CV has come elegantly full circle.

Throughout my career, commercial publishing has grappled with many of the same challenges we still face today in the university press community. I've managed dozens of print to electronic migrations–first to CD-ROM and then to the internet. I've launched new product lines that attempted in various ways to integrate content into workflow, from document assembly software through online training to various permutations of compliance rules tracking. It was never easy, and for every success it seems like there was a crash-and-burn. Still, the teams I was a part of learned much along the way, and we were always careful to make new mistakes the next time.

My most valuable publishing experiences, however, have come in the last four years. Since joining Oxford, I have developed an abiding respect for the criticality of mission-based publishing; university presses perform a unique and vital function, one which commercial publishers cannot. In no small way, we husband scholarship, ensuring that authoritative knowledge is preserved and advanced for current and future generations. We're not curing cancer, but we're documenting the race for that cure, just as we chronicle the path to increased understanding across the spectrum of intellectual enquiry. It is a worthy endeavor.

So how does one protect and nurture such a worthwhile enterprise? How best to advance the university press community? Well, of course, the AAUP already does a great deal, and very effectively. From Open Access to copyright to defending "presses in crisis", our association regularly punches above its weight. What do I think I can add to this heady mix?

I'll recap briefly a few of the themes that recurred during my conversations with your Search Committee; in the fullness of time, I believe they will come to form the gravamen of an agenda for a "Berkery Administration."

I am an attorney by training, so like any good lawyer I'll preface these thoughts with a caveat. I've come to this role with some knowledge, and some opinions, but at this early stage my ideas probably are best understood as first impressions. I've had the opportunity to speak with a number of university press thought leaders already, but I intend to spend the first months of my tenure meeting with the broadest possible cross-section of our community in order to cultivate more fully the ideas you see sprouting here.

Like the larger publishing community, university presses have not yet fully weathered the technology disruption. That technology is changing the way authors interact with publishers, publishers interact with the supply chain, and consumers interact with the written word is beyond dispute. The final chapter in how this disruption pans out, however, remains largely unwritten. We know that publishing's trajectory will not parallel the music industry's (though of course critical lessons are to be learned there), and we know that resistance is futile, but beyond that our assimilation remains a work-in-progress. Adding further complexity to any attempt at a predictive model is the unique refereeing and peer review processes central to the scholarly publishing proposition; preserving in the online context this singular assurance of rigor in a finished product is both our challenge and our opportunity. The paths toward digital migration are neither easy nor clear, but the AAUP can serve as a clearinghouse of information and emerging practices for its members.

Beyond the technology disruption, university presses face pressures that, in combination, pose existential threats to many small- and medium-sized entities. As budget cuts bring increased scrutiny to non-endowed activities, many university presses must find ways to simultaneously lower costs and increase appreciation of the value they bring to their institutions. Similarly, as colleges and universities look for ways to innovate, university presses can find their organizational alignment subject to sometimes radical adjustment. While our association consistently defends presses in crisis–and with an enviable win-loss record–in some respects by the time a university announces the decision to close its press we're already too late. I would like AAUP to develop broader resources to assist university presses in promoting themselves within their own ecosystems. I would like to deepen our relationships with the key constituencies that decide whether to grant or withhold institutional support. I want to work toward a day when the very idea of shuttering a university press becomes what it should be: unthinkable.

There are a number of other important issues–from library relations to Open Access to AAUP's internal governance and committee structure–in which I mean quickly to gain a firmer grounding in order to ensure the association maintains its proactive role. I hope by now it's clear, however, how highly I value the contribution that university presses make, and therefore by extension how hard I intend to work to advocate on your behalf. I am grateful and humbled by the opportunity I've been given, and I do mean to make the most of it.

So, that's me. When I'm not out fighting for truth, justice and the university press way, my partner Greg and I enjoy opera (baroque to modern–anything but the ABCs: Aida, Boheme, Carmen), travel (my passport has been stamped on all seven continents!), and the never-ending quest to exhaust our two Basenjis (Mortimer and Ray-ray).

Oh, and I'm a Libra. We're big on balance.

Peter Berkery
Incoming Executive Director, AAUP