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Provost’s committee on SU Press to submit report in September, leaving unformed Faculty Senate committee’s role in question

The Senate’s Committee on Libraries is performing its own data analysis in the meantime

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Three months after Provost Persis Drell rejected a five-year funding application from the Stanford University Press (SU Press) and — facing heavy backlash — agreed to make up to $1.7 million available to the Press in fiscal year 2020, questions remain as to how the Provost will decide future Press funding. These decisions are to be informed in part by two ad hoc committees, one appointed by Drell in late April and one approved by the 51st Faculty Senate on June 13. 

But while the Provost’s committee has been busy gathering data and conducting interviews to suggest a financial structure for the Press, the Faculty Senate committee — set to report on the academic role of the Press — remains unformed nearly two months after its approval. The University Budget Plan is submitted by the Provost to the Board of Trustees in winter, and some are concerned that the Provost’s committee is biased against adequate funding of the Press.

“The charge and orientation of [the Provost’s] committee was expressly of rightsizing and tough decisions … it has no reporting structure to the Senate … it is not a transparent group,” said Chinese history professor Tom Mullaney, a member of the Faculty Senate’s Committee on Libraries (C-LIB).

In an effort to address such concerns, the Faculty Senate asked in a June 13 resolution that the Provost delay Press funding decisions until both ad hoc committees finish their work. Though Drell has stated an interest and willingness to listen to both committees, it is likely that the Provost’s committee will be the only one of the two to have a substantial impact on the Stanford budget, said political science professor Judith Goldstein, chair of the Provost’s committee.

Goldstein told The Daily that the Provost’s committee is being transparent and fair, but that it is “impossible” for it to wait on the Faculty Senate committee when it comes to submitting a report. The Provost’s committee will be done and dissolved by the end of September, Goldstein said, whereas nothing the yet-to-be-formed Senate committee does will become official until its charge is approved by the Senate, which next meets on Oct. 10.

“If you wanted to have input into the University budget, you’d really want to do it during the fall quarter,” she added. “That’s how our university works.”

More than 4,000 faculty, students, staff and other community members demanded continued funding for the Press after Drell rejected its application for $1.7 million in funding per year for the next five years — a decision she attributed to poor performance from Stanford’s endowment — at the April 25 Faculty Senate meeting. 

Drell walked back part of that decision on April 30, notifying faculty that as much as $1.7 million in one-time funds will be made available to the Press in fiscal year 2020. But Drell has also expressed frustration with the one-time funding model, and the uncertainty of the Press’ financial situation in future years has led to concerns among many in the Stanford community.

A race against time

Since the Faculty Senate committee was approved at the final meeting of the 51st Faculty Senate, it would not be formed until fall quarter under normal Senate protocol, wrote Academic Secretary to the University Tom Wasow in a July 5 email to The Daily. However, Wasow noted that his office had begun soliciting nominations for the committee around the start of July “because of the sense of urgency expressed by many colleagues.”

“It will be tight,” Wasow wrote, “but I think it should be possible for the committee, once constituted, to finish during the autumn quarter.”

Despite efforts thus far, Wasow confirmed to The Daily on Saturday that the committee has not yet been filled. He attained little success after inviting “about a dozen people” from a list of names and alternates provided to him by the Faculty Senate’s Committee on Committees.

“Most of them have other commitments that make it impossible for them to serve,” Wasow wrote in a Saturday email to The Daily. “I will be sending out more invitations in the week ahead.”

As fall quarter approaches, faculty members from the Senate Committee on Libraries — some of whom have served on the SU Press editorial board — have taken data collection into their own hands by forming the SU Press Data Analysis Working Group, or SUPDAWG. But with no jurisdiction over the Press and no guarantee the data will be used, SUPDAWG is waiting on formation of the Faculty Senate committee, at which point the group plans to hand over its work.

SUPDAWG includes Mullaney, Latin American history professor Zephyr Frank, comparative literature professor David Palumbo-Liu, history professor Jessica Riskin, German and comparative literature professor Adrian Daub and associate music professor Ge Wang. Palumbo-Liu was chair of the SU Press editorial board from 1995-96, and Frank currently serves on the board, which he joined this year. Mullaney and Wang have each written a book that was published by the Press.

Daub and Frank have also accepted nominations to serve on the yet-to-be-formed Faculty Senate committee, they confirmed in emails to The Daily.

Mullaney did not specify what SUPDAWG plans to do if neither ad hoc committee accepts its data, but he believes the data “should see the light of day.” Though SUPDAWG has members who have served on the SU Press editorial board, Mullaney challenged the idea that SUPDAWG’s data collection would be viewed as biased in favor of the Press. He said the group is bringing in outside interlocutors and advisers to assist in its work.

He is also concerned in a broader sense that, among university press experts, the “wealth of understanding of how this scholarly and business world works is now being recast by those who want to take a kind of econometric perspective on it as just an opinion, and a biased one at that.”

“We have no idea if they’re gonna do anything with this data … but in order to right the scales, or even have a fighting chance of righting the scales — which are so skewed right now — this [Faculty Senate] committee needs some starter kit of data,” Mullaney said.

Goldstein said the Provost’s committee is a “a very, very fair group” and will not be using data from SUPDAWG. The Provost’s committee includes East Asian languages and cultures professor Ron Egan, comparative literature professor Roland Greene, communications professor Jay Hamilton, religious studies professor Paul Harrison, law professor Bernadette Meyler and history professor Aron Rodrique. Budget Planning and Policy Analysis Director Dana Shelly is also on the committee.

Egan has served as a referee for SU Press, and Meyler has reviewed books and articles for the Press. Rodrique was co-editor of the Stanford Studies in Jewish History and Culture Series at the Press from 1993-2014.

In addition to scraping web data and collecting it from the Association of University Presses, the Provost’s committee has interviewed the heads of “top 20 university presses” and spoken with or scheduled meetings with almost everyone on the SU Press editorial board, Goldstein said. An external review of the Press will begin in the first week of September, she added.

Goldstein also said she has offered the Provostial committee’s data to Daub, who not only agreed to serve on the Senate committee but also introduced the resolution calling for it.

“There is no data that those people would have obtained that we have not already obtained,” Goldstein said of SUPDAWG. “I have offered it back to them. I am more than happy to share everything we have with them. We have a boatload of data.”

Daub told The Daily that he believes “it would be prudent for the Senate ad hoc committee to draw on the data” Goldstein has offered from the Provostial committee.

“I don’t think they’re asking every question I would like our Senate committee to weigh in on, but they’re asking very good questions,” Daub wrote. “It’ll be a huge asset to have that data.”

‘An antagonistic relationship’

Regardless of how its data is used, SUPDAWG’s work has already been a source of tension between it and the Stanford administration. Mullaney tweeted on July 4 that the administration had worked to “target” and “intimidate” him because of his support of SU Press.

Mullaney told The Daily that he felt like he had been accused of “the bureaucratic equivalent of impersonating a police officer,” or plagiarizing an essay, in an email sent by Tom Wasow on July 4. In the email, which The Daily has reviewed, Wasow wrote that he had been told Mullaney was misrepresenting himself as a member of the Faculty Senate committee on SU Press while reaching out to other university press directors for SUPDAWG’s data collection. 

Also in the email, Wasow asked that Mullaney clarify the situation with anyone who may have been misinformed, if he had in fact misrepresented himself, and that he be sure not to misrepresent himself in the future. Mullaney, pointing to supportive emails from other SUPDAWG members, said Wasow’s wording formed “an antagonistic relationship,” but Wasow maintains otherwise.

“I was very careful in my message to [Mullaney] to state that I was writing in response to something I had heard and to formulate my request as a conditional — that is, I wrote that if what I had heard was true, I requested that he correct the misinformation,” Wasow wrote in an email to The Daily.  “I don’t see how this can be construed as an accusation.”

Mullaney told The Daily he had begun contacting other university press directors for SUPDAWG’s data collection about a week prior to receiving Wasow’s email. Mullaney has repeatedly said that he made the separation of SUPDAWG and the Faculty Senate committee clear in all interactions with other press directors, and Wasow told The Daily he has “no basis for questioning” Mullaney further.

“I don’t know if these directors are very happy about being called by more than one group,” Goldstein said. “A couple of the directors have called, and they’ve been very confused.”

As tensions surrounding SU Press continue to run high, it remains to be seen when the Faculty Senate’s ad hoc committee on the Press will be formed and begin its work. But with the Provost’s committee and SUPDAWG both making data available, that faculty committee will have a starting point, should it choose to accept it.

Contact Holden Foreman at hs4man21 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

Holden Foreman '21 is The Daily's Executive Editor. He hails from the city of St. Louis, Missouri and is studying electrical engineering, computer science and economics. Contact him at hs4man21 'at' stanford.edu.