June 12, 2014

The Ivy League gets with the program: Jennifer Crewe named first female director of an Ivy university press


The statue of Alma Mater at Columbia University. Image from Wikipedia.

The statue of Alma Mater at Columbia University. Image from Wikipedia.

The Ivy League is known for many things: academic excellence, of course, but also less admirable features such as seafoam-green chinos, early morning crew practice, and far, far too many nonfunctional carabiners. And also, it seems, not promoting women to be the heads of their university presses.

Until yesterday, when it was announced that Jennifer Crewe, longtime editor at Columbia University Press, has been appointed president and director of the press, the very first in the history of the Ivies. Crewe has been at the press for many years, and in a senior role for most of those. She started as an editorial assistant in 1979 and spent four years at CUP, working up to a Manuscript Editor position. She then worked for four years in the wilds of trade publishing at Scribner’s and Macmillan. In 1986, she returned to Columbia as an Executive Editor and has since been Publisher for the Humanities (5 years), Editorial Director (6 years), and Associate Director (9 years). Crewe replaces James D. Jordan, who’d previously been at Johns Hopkins University Press and W.W. Norton, and served as the head of CUP since 2004.

This is an industry-wide concern: my colleague Kirsten Reach has written on this blog in the past about the low numbers of female CEOs in trade publishing, and perhaps it’s not surprising that the Ivy League, with its historical connections to the old boy network, has been so behind in this respect. Which doesn’t mean it’s not distressing: they have a combined 750 years of publishing among them, and an outsized influence on what gets paid attention to, both within academia and outside it. (In fact, not all the Ivies have a press: though there are eight schools in the Ivy League, Brown University, which joined the University Press of New England consortium in the early 1980s — of which Dartmouth is also a member — now has no apparent presence at all, even within UPNE. Because, Brown.)

But that still leaves Harvard, Yale, Princeton, U. Penn, Columbia, and the first university press of them all, Cornell, founded in 1869. A look at their mastheads reveals that there are plenty of women employed in acquisitions and executive director spots… but not at the top. Non-Ivies have long been better at this: Margaret S. Harding was became one of the first female directors of a major university press, at University of Minnesota Press, way back in the ’20s, and ran it for twenty-five years.

And there have been concerted efforts to make changes in the industry in the past. In 1979, the Women in Scholarly Publishing group was formed as part of the Association of American University Presses to address, among other issues, career prospects. At the time, according to a history of WISP (perhaps not the greatest acronym, that one) on the AAUP’s website, “a significant majority—65%—of non-clerical university press staff was female, but only 13% of university press leadership (directors, associate directors, assistant directors) were women.” That changed—Cynthia Miller, Director at University of Pittsburgh Press, recounts that:

“When I became president of WISP [in 1985], there were five women press directors (there had been five women press directors in the 1950s!); now I’ve lost count.”

In recent years, WISP has faded as its original members have grown older and retired, and its activities have been folded into the AAUP’s mentoring and professional development programs. But Crewe’s appointment at this late date suggests that the need for these types of associations hasn’t gone away. Established generations of female leaders may see solid ground, where younger women see something very different: one female director, one generation of women who’ve developed and sustained a career, one set of role models. One is a number that makes a generation already rattled by recession and radical transformation in the industry justifiably nervous—it’s not enough.


Sal Robinson is an editor at Melville House. She's also the co-founder of the Bridge Series, a reading series focused on translation.