Committee report on University Press recommends bold changes for future direction

A recently released committee report recommends a number of improvements to the University Press designed to better engage faculty, the Vanderbilt community broadly and build on regional strengths. In total, the changes seek to position the University Press for success in a rapidly changing publishing environment.

Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and Provost Susan R. Wente (Vanderbilt University)

“The University Press is a unique part of the university’s dissemination of knowledge, and these recommendations will align the press more closely with Vanderbilt’s mission,” said Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Susan R. Wente. “They focus on leveraging our community of scholars and their trans-institutional efforts; aligning with key instructional priorities, including the Academic Strategic Plan, Immersion Vanderbilt and inclusive excellence; and strengthening the university’s public engagement and outreach. I thank the committee for their service and look forward to moving forward with this guidance.”

Based on the recommendations, the provost will launch a national search for a new director of the University Press in the next few weeks. The director will work closely with the editorial committee and other key partners to implement a new strategic vision. Appointed by the provost, the editorial committee reviews and approves book proposals and contributes to editorial and acquisition policies. Other planned improvements include a new partnership with Longleaf Services for publishing and distribution services, updates to the press’ internal processes and acquisition strategy, and enhanced external communications to leverage the Vanderbilt brand.

Associate Provost for Academic Initiatives Dawn Turton (Vanderbilt University)

“With the challenges and opportunities facing publishers today, including the shift to more digital content, the time is right to review and enhance the University Press’s strategy and approach,” said Dawn Turton, associate provost for academic initiatives and interim director. “As an independent voice supporting academic freedom and innovation in our region, we are in the enviable position of being able to develop a publication strategy that will set the press and Vanderbilt apart. With ambitious leadership, a creative acquisitions strategy, and innovative and enterprising marketing, the press can build on its current strengths and reach new levels of prominence and importance in a range of fields.”

The committee of faculty and staff that conducted the assessment was chaired by Daniel Sharfstein, a professor of both law and history and holder of the Tarkington Chair in Teaching Excellence at the law school. The group convened in October 2017 and over the academic year engaged in fact finding and analysis, including benchmarking 18 other similarly sized presses and gathering opinions from outside editors.

Daniel Sharfstein, Tarkington Chair in Teaching Excellence and professor of law and of history (Vanderbilt University)
Daniel Sharfstein, Tarkington Chair in Teaching Excellence and professor of law and of history (Vanderbilt University)

The committee’s recommendations for the press are to: focus on Vanderbilt’s core academic offerings, pursue and generate more locally focused products, improve its operational efficiency and marketing, and engage in a two-way effort to leverage the strengths of the Vanderbilt community and contribute to the university’s intellectual life.

“The press is publishing a wide range of thoughtfully curated works as well as engaging in fruitful collaborations with the Frist Art Museum and the Country Music Foundation Press,” said Sharfstein, an award-winning author. “We see opportunities for substantive growth for the press and synergistic investment in Nashville, Vanderbilt and the mid-South region. We project that such an enhanced partnership can strengthen the press and the university’s public local and regional engagement.”

‘New York Times’ best-selling author Andrew Maraniss (submitted image)

Also on the committee was Andrew Maraniss, BA’92, whose inspiring book, Strong Inside: Perry Wallace and the Collision of Race and Sports in the South, was published in 2014 by the University Press and became a New York Times bestseller.

“As a new author, I enjoyed working with the University Press and their personal approach,” said Maraniss. “As a committee member, I saw the press through a wider lens. The press is a valuable asset to Vanderbilt, and with updated processes and a renewed effort to attract and market works, I believe both Vanderbilt and its press will benefit.”