The illiterate decision to shut down UWA Publishing

The University of Western Australia this week announced plans to close its esteemed press. Dr André Brett, the current early career researcher representative on the Australian Historical Association executive, addresses this news. The views below are mine, not those of the AHA or its executive—but I emphasise that I am making them in a representative capacity, because this press matters to early career historians.

UWAP logoUniversity of Western Australia Publishing (UWAP) is one of the most significant university presses in Australasia. A book published through UWAP is a mark of esteem for historians. Its catalogue makes Western Australian histories prominent among a diverse selection of publications so deep and rich that choosing to name a few luminaries feels invidious.

UWAP is also important to the life of other disciplines and literary scenes, not least poetry, for whom this publisher has been a standard bearer. It has made a point of telling indigenous stories and bringing diverse voices to wider audiences. It prints Western Australian narratives that east coast publishers often disregard. It has high production standards, and high standards for creativity and scholarship. Suffice it to say that the awards won by UWAP books each testify to the quality of its whole list. UWAP is an essential part of Australia’s literary landscape.

And yet, this week, the University of Western Australia’s deputy vice-chancellor (global partnerships) Tayyeb Shah issued a memo announcing that the press, in its current form, is to be shut down.

Shah’s memo is couched in managerial jargon about “strategic vision” and output alignment. It makes perplexing claims that suggest UWAP is not valuable because too few of its authors or their topics “relate directly to the university and its work”. This is specious. The cultural capital that UWAP accrues for the university is vast, unquantifiable—and, most importantly, irreplaceable.

You would think a DVC (global partnerships) would recognise that an esteemed publisher puts a university on the map. Evidently not.

We cannot let UWAP be dismantled quietly. UWAP is important to early career historians: not only does it publish so much of the scholarship that influences us, but it is also a prospective outlet for our own research. Publishing through UWAP is, for many new historians, a sign that they have “arrived”. For historians of Western Australia, it sits at the very heart of their work.

Sign the petition calling for this decision to be reversed. Share it. Tell your friends and colleagues to sign it. Make representations to senior management at the University of Western Australia, if you feel in a position to do so.

Few universities in Australasia can boast a press as respected as UWAP. To cast it aside is incomprehensible.

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