The University of Melbourne’s decision to neuter its publishing arm, Melbourne University Publishing, has come as a surprise to those who worked on a review of the publisher.
Yesterday, longstanding CEO of MUP Louise Adler and five board members quit the university press over a University of Melbourne decision to shift its focus to scholarly works and install an editorial advisory board.
Sandy Grant, CEO of Melbourne publisher Hardie Grant, was invited to review Melbourne University Publishing by the university last year, and told Crikey he wasn’t sure what the shift in focus was based on. The report he contributed to recommended more digital opportunities for academics to publish their work.
The review was intended to look at ways to get a closer link between the academic community and the university press amid tension between MUP and the university administration, Grant said.
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“The last thing I saw was that there was going to be a focus on introducing a wider range of digital opportunities for academics to be published as opposed to getting rid of general publishing entirely,” Grant said. “There may have been an implication that there should be more of a focus on academic publishing but nothing was meant to be shut down.”
“It was fairly clear that (University of Melbourne chancellor) Allan Myers was unhappy with some of the publishing and, in particular, the George Pell book and that brought things to a head and that brought on the review.”
MUP published ABC journalist Louise Milligan’s book Cardinal about former cardinal George Pell in 2017.
Grant, who was once Adler’s boss at Reed Books, echoed the sentiments of many others online yesterday, saying Adler had found and published books that wouldn’t have otherwise ever been written.
“Louise has done a lot of important publishing. She’s certainly created a lot of energy and attention to political and social issues,” he said. “She can convince someone who hadn’t considered doing a book that they should, and then get it out of them. She had a great skill that people in the industry call being able to ‘Adlerise’. That’s what will be missed by the industry.”
Under Adler, MUP published Tony Abbott’s Battlelines, The Latham Diaries, and Mick Gatto’s autobiography.
Grant said Adler’s personal style and talent for finding and publishing books had given the university a public visibility which had been a priority for former vice chancellor Glyn Davis. “The university under Glyn Davis was happy to have that visibility and prominence in public debate,” Grant said. “He was happy for them to be in amongst the big issues of our time. Obviously there’s been a change of the guard, with different priorities, who don’t value as Glyn did the university being a loud voice in public debate.”
Chairman Laurie Muller and five directors — former NSW premier Bob Carr, former human rights commissioner Gillian Triggs, PwC partner Tony Peake and entrepreneur Danny Gorog — also resigned yesterday. Carr told The Australian the new model was not “viable”. “It leaves a board like ours with no contribution to make,” Carr said.
Muller told Guardian Australia the changes would include the appointment of an editorial advisory board, separate to the main board, editors and publisher. “And you can argue that that is a great restriction on the freedom of publishing,” he said.
Adler did not respond to Crikey’s request for comment by deadline.