University Press of Kansas has a long history of publishing. The question now is whether it will have a publishing future. Higher education has been hit hard by the pandemic. The loss of revenue is forcing universities to cut budgets and one of those cuts could be University Press of Kansas. As school officials decide whether to shut down the publishing house, scholars are speaking out in protest. One of them is Guest Commentator Tai Edwards, an author and history professor at Johnson County Community College.
Guest Commentator Tai Edwards is a history professor and director of the Kansas Studies Institute at Johnson County Community College. Her book, Osage Women and Empire, was published by the University Press of Kansas in 2018.
I found out – on Kansas Day ironically – that the provosts of public universities in Kansas are seriously considering drastic budget cuts to -- or even closing -- University Press of Kansas. We cannot allow this to happen.
The University Press of Kansas isn't just a prestigious academic press. It plays a critical role in higher education, scholarship and public service. Academic presses produce material that is carefully vetted by experts and thus - the gold-standard for quality research. Kansas Press is also not-for-profit. The authors and the Press make very little revenue from their books because the purpose is to make them available for the public and... for students. Many of the Kansas Press books I own I first acquired as a college student. And that’s essential to understand – this press directly serves students in Kansas and across the nation.
Kansas press is renowned for its series on U.S. Presidents, law and the Constitution, military and warfare, environmental and Indigenous histories, and much more. Right now, more than ever, we need books examining the Dynamics of American Democracy or Angry Politics – and those are just some of their recent titles. In 2020, Kansas Press published a second edition of David Wallace Adams’ Education for Extinction – which is “revered by scholars and students alike as the most comprehensive and highly respected book on the federal government’s off-reservation Indian boarding school system” – including Haskell Institute, which operated in Lawrence. We cannot remedy our past, nor succeed in our future without the knowledge these books, like so many from Kansas press, provide us.
Finally, Kansas matters. This press publishes some of the best and only work on our state. For example, there are only two book-length academic histories of the Kaw or Kanza people – closing Kansas press would eliminate half the scholarship on our state’s original inhabitants. Brown vs. Board of Education, the meat processing industry, birds in Kansas, the history of Pittsburg State University, Jim Hoy’s writing on the Tallgrass prairie and C.J. Janovy’s award-winning study of LGBT activism in Kansas - none of this exists without Kansas Press.
The provosts of public universities in Kansas will soon decide “how or if the press will continue to operate.” I implore them to maintain this press and its vital service to our students, state, and nation. And if they decide to implement reforms, please reach out to people like me and other willing academics in the state who want to participate in this process to help make the press continue and succeed.
On a personal note, the most popular University Press of Kansas book at my house is Amphibians & Reptiles in Kansas. My sons use this book ALL THE TIME to identify the lizards, frogs, turtles, and snakes we find in our yard. It brings us so much joy. In a year when we’ve all lost so much, please don’t make the mistake of eliminating the things we need to discover and recover – the ability to keep thinking, writing, and reading about ourselves, our government, our community, our state, and sometimes... even our lizards.
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