Statement on the Elimination of the University Press of Kentucky
Monday, April 2, 2018
Posted by: Paula Bishop
On behalf of the organization, Sandra Graham, SAM President, has issued the following letter to Governor Matt Bevin protesting the defunding and elimination of the University of Kentucky Press:
Dear Governor Bevin:
As President of the Society for American Music and as spokesperson for the Society's Board of Trustees, I write to protest the defunding and elimination of the University Press of Kentucky. The Press has served our members and the international learning community since its inception, and its small full-time staff of seventeen has had an outsized impact on students and scholars. For evidence you need not look further than its thirteen Frederick Jackson Turner Awards for History, four Weatherford Awards for Appalachian Studies, and three Lillian Smith Book Awards for African American Studies. Indeed, the Press's publications not only regularly garner awards but are award finalists, and the Society for American Music's members count the Press's titles among those in our personal libraries as well as those of our institutions.
Regional publishers are especially valuable, because they recognize the importance of local histories to our national narratives. For example, The Kentucky African American Encyclopedia is a source that no other published encyclopedia replicates. Ron Pen's biography of John Jacob Niles, I Wonder as I Wander, grew out of his work as director of the John Jacob Niles Center for American Music at the University of Kentucky, and it owes its impact to Pen's intimate knowledge of Kentuckian geography and countryside.
Finally, as the scholarly publisher for the Commonwealth, the Press highlights the historically important educational institutions that have played important roles in U.S. history - particularly that of Berea College, one of the first institutions of higher learning in the United States to be racially integrated and to admit women. This would seem to fall squarely into your proclaimed dedication to "investing in education and workforce" (https://governor.ky.gov).
Eliminating the University of Kentucky Press severs a venerable historical tradition. University presses have played an important role in separating scholarship from the explicitly commercial demands of publishing - indeed, they stand for the integrity of the advancement of knowledge, which cannot be undertaken with the constant pressure to earn a profit. In the United States, academic presses have helped establish the reputation of universities, beginning with the first U.S. university press at Cornell University (est. 1869). The decision to end the press at the University of Kentucky will be seen by scholars, both domestic and international, as a turn away from the advancement of knowledge - in other words, a turn away from one of the fundamental mandates of universities. One need only recall the outrage at the closing of the University of Missouri Press in 2012 for an example of how such a short-sighted decision can hurt a university's reputation.
President, Society for American Music