Publishing a self-punishing book

How do university presses handle manuscripts that present their parent universities in an unfavorable light? What happens when the editorial committee -- with the power to approve or reject a manuscript for publication -- includes members who had been actively involved in the controversies discussed in a particular manuscript? When the institution in question is a state university and a manuscript is critical of government and university policies and activities, does that manuscript have any chance of being published by the state university press? In at least one case, the answer to this last question is ``yes.''

In 1978, the University of Washington Press was presented with a challenging manuscript dealing with the actions of the university during the controversial McCarthy era. While the manuscript's author, Jane Sanders, a University of Washington-educated scholar with a PhD in education, notes that the general picture of the cold war's impact on American higher education had been related by others, her book was groundbreaking in that it told of the particular ``reactions of the University of Washington's administrators, faculty members, and students to external and internal pressures on the integrity of the educational process.''

Some of her particulars reflected on members of the editorial committee and, according to Naomi Pascal, editor in chief at the University of Washington Press, at least one member of the committee ``appeared in the manuscript in a not wholly favorable light.'' The question was, would a committee that represented not only the university but also individuals named in the text approve the manuscript for publication?

Ms. Pascal recalls ``we felt . . . that it was a fair-minded presentation'' although it told a ``frequently painful story.'' In her preface Ms. Sanders made clear her view of the university's actions. ``Although I have tried to present a balanced view of why things happened the way they did, and to keep in mind the limits imposed on historical characters by their frames of reference, I believe much of the record must be judged deplorable,'' Sanders wrote.

Despite its disquieting judgment of their own university, the editors at the University of Washington Press recognized the importance of the manuscript. They submitted it to expert readers on campus ``who confirmed the accuracy of the account'' and to readers in other parts of the country ``who spoke to its broader significance,'' according to Pascal.

Next, the press ``made a special point of announcing in advance that copies of the manuscript were available'' for committee members to read. Of course, all university presses normally make manuscript and book proposals available to their advisory committees, but a keen effort was made here to completely inform the committee of the controversial manuscript.

``We were gratified when the manuscript was unanimously approved at our next meeting,'' Pascal recalls proudly. ``What could have become an unpleasant instance'' of pressure ``not to publish a book critical of the university was avoided.''

The publication in 1979 of Jane Sanders's book ``Cold War on Campus: Academic Freedom at the University of Washington, 1946-64'' is also a triumph of truth. The truth exposed here is uncomfortable and revealing. The unanimously approved publication of it is a testimony to the courage and integrity of the University of Washington editors and advisory committee.

Rosemary Herbert is a free-lance writer who specializes in writing about the world of books.

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