An Interview with Peter Berkery, Executive Director, AAUP
Column Editor’s Note: On March 1, 2013, Peter Berkery became the Executive Director for the AAUP (Association of American University Presses). He comes to the AAUP from Oxford University Press, where he served for the last four years as Vice President and Publisher for the U.S. Law Division. Prior to that he worked for Wolters Kluwer for 11 years in a series of positions, publishing works on securities licensing examination training, securities law, taxation, and financial planning.
Berkery has extensive experience in government affairs and association management. He has been Director of Government Affairs for the National Society of Accountants and Government Relations Counsel for the National Paint and Coatings Association, and has served as Assistant Executive Director and Staff Counsel for a division of the American Trucking Associations. He has served on the Board of Directors of the Accreditation Counsel for Accountancy and Taxation, and as its President.
Berkery has a BA in Classical Studies from Boston College, and both an MA and a JD from The American University, as well as a Master of Laws in Taxation from George Washington University. He has been admitted to practice in Maryland, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, and the United States Tax Court.
We spoke on March 22, 2013. — AH
AH: Congratulations on the new job. What interested you about it?
PB: Thanks. That’s a great question. I’ve had an interest in the AAUP even before joining Oxford and this position seems to draw on every strand of my background, ranging from my own scholarship to my previous experience in associations to my many years in publishing. It seems like an elegant way to bring my CV full circle while giving me the opportunity to serve an association and a set of activities that matter.
AH: Could you describe some of your initial undertakings?
PB: I’ve been talking with as many people as I can, both within the university press community and outside it. It’s an amazingly diverse organization, with presses of widely differing size and focus. Relationships with home institutions, list sizes, and staff organizations vary widely. The AAUP Board reflects this diversity and I am working with them to ensure that we do a good job of representing all our members. One thing I am discovering — and agree with — is that many presses do regard themselves first as units of their home university and second as members of the publishing community.
AH: In recent years, there’s been tension between the library community and university presses. Any thoughts on that?
PB: Yes, I’ve found that in some cases there’s almost a knee-jerk hostility, which is surprising, not productive, and not necessary. But the divide doesn’t really seem to be a divide. As I’ve been talking with many in both communities, I’ve found that as individuals, people on both sides are reasonable. But in a group or institutional setting, a “dome of orthodoxy” sets in.
AH: Any thoughts on how we address this divide?
PB: Everyone needs to acknowledge that extreme positions aren’t helpful. There’s a great deal more nuance than is sometimes acknowledged. The university press agenda isn’t fully aligned with commercial publishers. What differentiates us from them — our mission to disseminate scholarship as widely as we can — can align us with libraries.
AH: How can the AAUP work to repair the gaps between libraries and presses?
PB: First, we need to talk with each other. On the association level, I’ve met recently with the new Executive Director of the ARL, Elliott Shore, and with AAU chief John Vaughan. Our dialogue with them and with other associations, whether publisher, library, or otherwise, must become a regular thing. In addition, AAUP can try to facilitate more conversation among the various constituencies in scholarly publishing. The more we talk the more we can see nuance in each other’s positions and the more we can recognize that we’re in this together.
AH: Individual libraries and presses have various formal and informal relationships on different campuses. Some presses report to libraries. Do you feel any particular model for a press-library relationship stands out from the rest?
PB: No one size fits all. As the Ithaka report noted several years ago, there’s no single model for organizing scholarly publishing at a given university. Currently, about 20% of presses report into the library. Many believe it’s positive and constructive, some report that historical tensions do rear their heads and can create a struggle. The really important thing is to establish the comparative strengths of each unit and analyze how they can be leveraged to better disseminate scholarship. In most cases, presses can reach broader audiences than can libraries alone.
AH: How should library publishing programs and university press publishing differ?
PB: A provost might ask, “Why do we have two different publishing programs?” There’s little scale to begin with at most university presses, so when you distribute publishing activity among several parts of the university, it just makes achieving scale that much harder. I don’t know enough yet to say what it is libraries are publishing, so I can’t really offer any further thought on this right now.
AH: Let’s move to some specific issues. What are your thoughts on open access?
PB: First, it isn’t always clear what people mean when they say open access. There are a wide variety of flavors, from varying methods of cost recovery for both author and publisher to embargoes on new materials to differences in copyright restrictions. So when any individuals begin to talk about open access, exactly what they mean isn’t clear. And if everyone is reduced to being for it or against it, all those necessary distinctions get lost in the rhetoric. There’s much common ground among university presses and the other constituents in the university. We need to keep the ideology out of our conversations and focus on the common goal of disseminating scholarship as widely as possible while noting the financial constraints on all the parties involved — publishers, librarians, faculty, students.
AH: Any opinions on the free rider issue in university press publishing?
PB: I know that this problem — which is that those universities sponsoring presses are absorbing costs those colleges and universities without presses do not bear — is beginning to show up on the radar of administrators and librarians. AAUP would be interested in any initiatives that address the question and look forward to participating in conversations within the broader academic community to resolve it in a way that allows the community to discuss fairer ways to share and perhaps even reduce some of the costs of scholarly communication.
AH: Do you think it’s a good idea for university presses to get involved in initiatives to create open access and/or less expensive textbooks for undergraduates?
PB: Again, I don’t think one size fits all. Some presses have been publishing textbooks for a very long time and almost every press publishes books that are used as concurrent reading in undergraduate course. Florida and others have been involved in open access textbooks. Setting up the infrastructure to publish textbooks may or may not be productive depending on the individual situation, but university presses have always provided materials to students at reasonable prices and no doubt will continue to do so in varied ways.
AH: Thanks. One last question — how will you define success as AAUP’s Executive Director?
PB: Great question. The answer is I’m not sure yet. But revitalized relations with other constituencies in the university would be one way. We also need to help AAUP members better promote themselves and the value they bring to the university ecosystem, especially within their own community. We need to get to the point where a situation like the one that occurred at the University of Missouri Press last year would never occur again and where it would never occur to an administrator that closing a press would be a good idea. Instead, presses should be regarded as central to the university’s efforts to engage successfully with the revolution in scholarly communication.
Leah was appointed Executive Director of the Charleston Conference in 2017, and has served in various roles with the Charleston Information Group, LLC, since 2004. Prior to working for the conference, she was Assistant Director of Graduate Admissions for the College of Charleston for four years. She lives in a small town near Columbia, SC, with her husband and two kids where they raise a menagerie of farm animals.