The CEO and board members of one of the country’s leading book publishers have resigned in protest, citing an “appalling” decision of the university to limit its focus to academic works.
Foreign Minister and NSW Premier Bob Carr, former human rights commissioner Professor Gillian Triggs, Laurie Muller and Tony Peake were the four independent board members to quit the organisation.
Melbourne University Press (MUP) had become known for its nationally significant political works since 2003, when outgoing CEO Louise Adler took the helm of the organisation.
In a statement, Ms Adler pointed to her pride in a number of works published by the organisation, including ABC journalist Louise Milligan’s Walkley Award-winning book Cardinal: The Rise and Fall of George Pell.
The decision to publish that book raised concerns among some at the university, Dr Triggs said.
Speaking to ABC Radio National Drive host Patricia Karvelas on Wednesday evening, Dr Triggs said there were “inevitable concerns” about the publication of the book.
“I believe that it was an important book,” she said.
The New Daily asked the University of Melbourne if its chancellor Allan Myers QC, a lawyer who has acted for Cardinal Pell, had expressed an opinion on the publication of the book or the decision to change MUP’s strategic direction.
A university spokesperson declined to respond to those questions or a request for an interview with the chancellor.
Instead, the university supplied a prepared statement that said the “refocus” of the publisher followed an “extensive review”.
“The new focus will ensure the university press is aligned to the strengths of the University of Melbourne and its globally recognised academic and research fields,” the statement read.
Dr Triggs said she respected the decision of the university to change the direction of the publisher.
Another outgoing board member, Mr Carr, was more openly critical of the university’s decision.
Speaking to The Guardian, he said he and other board members were “appalled by the decision of the university leadership to effectively wrap it up, consigning it to narrow scholarly publishing”.
“MUP will no longer be a lively publisher of books on Australia, but a narrow, cloistered printing house for purely academic work,” he said.
He told Fairfax: “It is a sad, sad day that an independent publisher so important to Australian culture gets snuffed out, to be replaced by a boutique, cloistered press for scholars only.”
In a statement on her departure, Ms Adler pointed to a number of works that she says “contributed to the public discourse and documented the national story”.
She cited: “Geoffrey Bardon’s Papunya, which languished for years in 15 boxes, Rachel Perkins’ landmark First Australians, Stuart Macintyre’s The History Wars, Mark McKenna’s multi-award-winning biography of Manning Clark, Jenny Hocking’s forensic biography of Gough Whitlam, Mark Latham’s Diaries, Tony Abbott’s Battlelines, Bill Shorten’s For the Common Good, Paul Kelly’s The March of Patriots and Triumph and Demise, both magisterial chronicles of contemporary political history, and Louise Milligan’s Cardinal: The Rise and Fall of George Pell that has had national and international impact.”
“These are just some of the MUP titles to have set the agenda, changed community attitudes, altered public policy, held the powerful to account and defended the disempowered.”