It was announced last week that a four-year, $682,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation will help the University of Washington Press, the MIT Press, Duke University Press, the University of Georgia Press, and the Association of American University Presses (AAUP) create a pipeline program to diversify academic publishing by offering apprenticeships in book acquisitions departments. The University Press Diversity Fellowship program will recruit fellows who have “significant personal experience and engagement with diverse communities and a demonstrated ability to bring the understandings gleaned from such engagement to the daily work of academic publishing.” We chat with our own Gita Manaktala, editorial director, about this exciting new collaborative project.
How did this collaboration come into being?
This project owes much to the initiative and vision of Larin McLaughlin, Editor-in-Chief of the University of Washington Press; and to the Press’s Director, Nicole Mitchell. Larin developed the grant proposal and invited us, along with the University of Georgia Press and Duke University Press, to participate. This was last summer. I had recently returned from the annual meeting of the AAUP, where I was struck (not for the first time) by a gap between our publications—which do seek to include and account for the perspectives, histories, and concerns of diverse communities—and the lack of diversity in our own ranks. Happily, both our outgoing and incoming press directors have strongly supported our participation, as have colleagues at MIT and in the wider AAUP community.
What types of diversity do you hope the Mellon grant will foster in scholarly publishing?
The generous Mellon grant is designed to create a pathway for candidates with outstanding academic accomplishments, an interest in scholarly publishing, and significant experience with diverse communities. Because these are paid, one-year fellowships (twelve in all, hosted by four presses over three years), we hope to draw applicants who might not have had the opportunity to gain publishing experience and contacts through our existing internship programs. We also hope this program will raise awareness of the need for diversity in the publishing profession and inspire additional research and strategies for building a workforce that better reflects the changing demographics of the US population.
Why is book acquisitions the ideal or most appropriate department for these apprenticeships?
AAUP survey results suggest that acquisitions departments are among the most homogeneous departments at university presses. No specialized professional degree or program for acquisitions exists, so entry into acquisitions editorial roles tends to be especially dependent on unpaid internships. As acquisitions departments are a main feeder for leadership roles within university presses, including directorships, and acquisitions editors and editorial directors often represent presses in public forums, the lack of diversity in this area can be felt at all levels of industry leadership.
How will university presses and the publishing industry more generally benefit from this initiative?
University presses will benefit if our publications can better reflect the scholarship and interests of our authors and readers. A more diverse workforce will, we hope, help us to become and stay relevant for a wider community of researchers, students, and general readers.