November 9, 2016
President Robert J. Zimmer
The University of Chicago
5801 South Ellis Avenue, Suite 501
Chicago, Illinois 60637
RE: The Proposal by the University of Chicago Press to Publish the Journal of African American History
Dear President Zimmer,
I am a member of the Association for the Study of African American History writing to inform you that the University of Chicago Press is working on a contract with the Executive Board of ASALH that should be brought to your attention. Specifically, the proposal for your press to publish our Journal of African American History should not move forward because the board does not have the authority to act in this matter, based on our constitution and by-laws. I will enumerate the problems as follows:
- The officers of ASALH violated our authority as members to decide the issue of self-publishing.
The Business Session of ASALH met at its 101st Annual Meeting in Richmond on October 6, 2016. Our fundamental documents make clear that the Business Session governs the Executive Council. Our By-Laws 2f(3)(a) states that the function of the Executive Council is to “Implement the policies established by the Business Session of the Association.”
A motion was put on the floor and seconded calling for ASALH to continue to be its own publisher and to cease and desist from any and all negotiations with any firm to take over the role as publisher of the Journal of African American History. Despite the clarity of our governing documents, the President of ASALH, Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, denied that the Business Session had the authority to set policy to bind the board. In violation of Roberts Rules of Order, she ended the discussion and denied any motions relative to the issue. She informed us that the Executive Council is like the United States Congress and makes decisions according to its own lights. We only had the right to vote the board members out of office in future elections. This decision will be contested by legal action if necessary. The matter cannot be definitively resolved until our next Annual Meeting next fall.
- The terms of the proposal were misrepresented to the Business Session of the 101st Annual Meeting by the Executive Council
Those presenting on the proposal told the assembled membership that the payments from the agreement would be $100,000 or more in “profit” or “net” each year. Currently, our revenue is that amount, and so the presentations suggest our costs would disappear. Yet, the proposal from your press, which has come to light after the meeting, clearly states that the expenses of the editorial offices would be paid from the “income” provided by the UCP. This misrepresentation of financial information to the Business Meeting, the legislative body of our organization, likely violates the Sarbanes Oxley Act of 2002. Moreover, we were told that every member, approximately 2,000, would receive hard copies of the journal as part of the agreement. Many members seriously doubted this.
As a journal that has been published independently since 1916 (yes, this is our centennial), many of us feel strongly about continuing that tradition. Our founder, Carter G. Woodson, took a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree from the University of Chicago, and we are well aware how prestigious your journal publishing program is. Yet, we are also proud of our tradition of publishing a history journal that is among the oldest and most respected in the United States. We were born to self-publish black history—it is in our founding documents. There is no financial imperative to stop. Finally, many of us realize that the University of Chicago Press’ decision to leave JSTOR and establish its own digital platform was likely driven by declining revenues for your own journals. We are all facing declining revenues as universities cut their library budgets. Frankly, if we cease to self-publish, we may lose our ability to make the journal stand on its own two feet. Imagine closing down your publishing house for five years and then attempting to return to the business later!
Thank you for your consideration.
Daryl Michael Scott
Life Member of ASALH
Michael Magoulias, Journals Director, email@example.com
Kari Roane, Journals Acquisitions firstname.lastname@example.org