Academics unite to condemn YUPL redundancies

Academics unite to condemn YUPL redundancies

A letter to the senior management of Yale University Press strongly criticising the decision of Yale University Press London (YUPL) to make editors Gillian Malpass and Sally Salvesen redundant has been signed by more than 320 academics from 77 universities and 30 museums and institutions across nine countries.

The letter, written by Professor Jules Lubbock of the University of Essex and Professor Andrew Saint, general editor of research project Survey of London, condemns what it calls the "inexplicable dismemberment" of the art books department which comes with the departure of art and architecture publisher Malpass, who was recently made redundant after 33 years of service, and Salvesen, who is publisher of Pevsner Architectural Guides, decorative arts and design. The letter argues that this will have the "gravest impact" on the art list which is the "cornerstone of Yale University Press' reputation".

But in response, YUPL m.d Heather McCallum and John Donatich, director of Yale University Press, have said "nothing could be further from the truth".

The letter of complaint was sent to Donatich, and to Peter Salovey, president of Yale University, as well as to Susan Gibbons, librarian and deputy provost for libraries and scholarly communications at Yale University.

It stated: “As we understand it, the two outstanding commissioning art editors, Gillian Malpass and Sally Salvesen, are to be laid off, a development that has left us incredulous. If a distinguished organisation like Yale University Press can at a stroke dispense with the knowledge acquired over many years by these two exceptional professionals, then its commitment to the publishing of scholarly art, architecture, and design books on a comparable scale must be in question.”

It continues: "It is to be feared that these actions will result in considerable reputational damage to the press and perhaps to Yale University itself."

Lubbock told The Bookseller that the "major point behind all we have done" is that YUPL is the "greatest publisher of art books on the planet and that this status has been gained by the devoted service of Sally Salvesen and Gillian Malpass who have each worked for YUP for over 30 years".

YUPL confirmed it received the letter but Lubbock told The Bookseller the letter was initially intended to be private and so declined to disclose the academics' names.

He added: “All of the 300-plus signatories, who include the most distinguished art historians in the world, have immense respect for Malpass and Salvesen as the very best commissioning editors in the business. We are appalled by their redundancy which is cultural vandalism of epic proportions. We condemn YUP's appallingly bad, conspiratorial, irresponsible and non-consultative decision making. We are amazed by their indifference to the effect of their actions on the reputation of YUP and of Yale University. Finally we are disgusted by what seem to be brutal labour relations.

"Additionally we were motivated by a concern that YUP seems to be moving away from serious academic publishing (which was also highly accessible to the non-specialist reader) given the fact that the personnel in charge do not seem to have that background, nor does the replacement for Malpass and Salvesen. If YUP is aiming to become a trade publisher, then how can it continue to justify the advantages of charitable or not-for-profit status in the UK and the US?"

A response to the letter was written by Donatich and McCallum addressing the issues put forward in the letter and in an attempt to reassure the scholars that the restructuring program would not result in any decline in the art list's "firmly established qualities".

The letter said: "We want... to express our concern about the confusion that has led so many esteemed professionals to fear that the Art list is under threat. We would like to reassure you that nothing could be further from the truth. We are in fact investing in this area significantly."

It went on to say that the reorganisation of the press was a company-wide initiative, not confined to the art department, and its aims were to "strengthen YUPL's position as one of the foremost scholarly publishers in the world, as well as to preserve and grow YUPL's Art list".

"The reorganisation has been designed to support and sustain YUPL's academic art publishing and to build on and continue its distinguished legacy," the response said, adding that the move had been "thoroughly researched and discussed at great length" and was supported by YUPL Trustees, Yale University Press and Yale University leadership. 

Speaking to The Bookseller, McCallum declined to confirm the redundancy of Salvesen while the consultation process was still ongoing. However, she said she took the letter "very seriously".

"[The signatories] are worried that what we’ve done signifies a lack of commitment to the values of our art list, but the quality of our art list is paramount to us - the quality of all our lists is paramount to us," she said. "We’re a university press and excellence is our calling card. But we can't be complacent; we have to challenge ourselves to be better. With our restructure we've had to take a hard look at how we operate and how we go forward."

She added: "The restructure is our platform for growth. It’s not a cost-cutting exercise at all. Overall we’ll be employing the same amount of people as we were before."

Mark Eastment, former publishing director of V&A Publishing, is joining YUPL in the newly-created role of editorial director for art and architecture and Julian Loose, former publisher at Faber, is to join the company as editorial director for trade and academic in October.

The Bookseller understands that the YUPL consultation process will be completed by the end of this week.