Just a brief interruption to the ongoing vilification of Louise Adler and MUP by a few Ian Britain/Meanjin cheerleaders, including your correspondent Simon Hughes.

First, ALR is not a “rival” to Meanjin, except insofar as it is now one of a number of venues for literary/cultural discussion in this country (including Heat, the more political Griffith Review, Overland, etc.). You’ll have to ask the University of Melbourne why it invested so much money in the ALR venture; that’s another story altogether.

Second, MUP doesn’t have a “stable”, so far as I know (unless the horses have bolted), nor does it have a definable “product” so far as I can see; it isn’t quite so determining.

Third, there is no reason to imagine that the editor of Meanjin would be any more or less independent if the journal was housed at MUP than he is now. (MUP also publishes the Cultural Studies Review, for example, and naturally leaves the editor there to do whatever he has to do, unimpeded.) One might also ask: what exactly is the problem with a journal affiliating itself with a university press?

I’ve never heard of a university press interfering with a journal or its editor, and I find it hard to believe it would suddenly happen here and now. (University presses understandably publish a huge range of literary and cultural journals, by the way: this is far from unusual.)

Fourth, so far as I’ve seen, MUP is not “open space”; if the Meanjin editor likes working behind a closed door, I can’t see why this couldn’t happen in the MUP building.

Fifth, the proposal to place Meanjin with MUP (and the Faculty of Arts) was initiated not by MUP at all, but by the University of Melbourne, which required the journal to become (financially) secure and sustainable. Those on the Meanjin Board who voted for this proposal did so in order to gain some extra security for a journal that — from the University’s perspective — seemed to be skating on a melting ice rink.

There were no darker motives here. We wanted, and still want, to see this journal survive and thrive. This was never a “take-over” by MUP (which, I would think, would never make money out of the journal): that is just one of many daft points in Simon’s muddled article.

Sixth, MUP has not said what it has “planned” for Meanjin because I imagine that it doesn’t have any (plans, that is), at least not in terms of editorial role and content.

And how could it? It may indeed want to increase Meanjin’s subscriber base, which is far short of the imaginary figure of 2000 by the way; but then, so does the university: the more “knowledge transfer” here, the better, a point I would think all the board members and all the folk out there who value the journal would agree with.

Seventh, so far as I know MUP doesn’t have plans to take Meanjin online. In fact, it was the counter-proposal for retaining Meanjin’s “independence” backed by the current editor (ie. that it remain a stand-alone “company”) that spoke of exactly this online future for the journal: not the MUP and Faculty of Arts proposal. (My own view is that more of Meanjin should indeed be available online, but that it must remain in its hardcopy format at all costs — or, from the university’s perspective, at a reasonable cost.) Our Simon’s equation of MUP with Meanjin’s possible online future is a mistake.

I have been a board of management member of Meanjin, but I recently resigned after casting my vote for the proposal that would see Meanjin housed at (published by, distributed by) MUP, with Faculty of Arts involvement. I resigned because those on the board opposed to this proposal rehearsed the same couple of points over and over (that Meanjin would somehow lose its “independence” if this happened, that the current editor couldn’t possibly work in MUP’s building) ad nauseam and without a shred of good reason for doing so.

Meanjin meetings were like groundhog day, getting nowhere slowly. It all came to a head at a meeting when a final vote was cast, which I did — and then I resigned, exasperated, rather as Sandy Grant had done a little while ago. Both Louise Adler (a longstanding board member) and the editor, Ian Britain, also cast their votes at this meeting. One might say, at worst, that they both played out a “conflict of interest” position, and I’ve yet to see a literary journal which allows its editor to vote at a board of management meeting, although, no doubt, someone will find an example and correct me. But there it is, they both voted in different directions and the effect was even-stevens so it didn’t much matter.

Since then, the editor and a few righteous affiliates have lobbied the media and the university to see it their way, trampling over Louise Adler in the process. I think this is a disgrace, but the literary world is a small one and a little bit of righteousness can indeed go a long way, as your letter correspondents amply demonstrate.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey