No middle ground

How to run a press

by Donald Lamm ’53

Without being present at the board of governors meeting that apparently accepted a favorable report on the book from the publications committee, I do not know whether the matter of illustrations came up. It should have. That was the time for a decision to include or exclude the cartoons. In a somewhat comparable situation, threats and actual physical harm came to publishers of translations of Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses.

As a trade publisher, I would have had no compunctions about going full steam ahead, illustrations and all. (Some 20 years ago I received death threats from a radical religious group, non-Muslim; to the best of my knowledge, they haven't been carried out yet.) But a university is a vulnerable place, so I can understand the administration urging the Yale Press to withhold the illustrations for the security of members of the institution. And the availability of the cartoons on the safety of the Internet mitigates the situation somewhat. Still, the timing was unfortunate.

Will the reputation of the Yale University Press be injured by this episode? I don't believe so. The Press has an admirable standing among academic publishers and has endured controversy in the past. One of its strengths is that the leading officers of the university serve on the board of governors. That is rare among university presses. Henceforth those officers as well as the publications committee and the editors must exercise greater diligence when considering books that entail potential risks to the well-being of the university community.  


Donald Lamm ’53, a former chair of W. W. Norton & Co., served on the board of the Yale Press for more than 12 years.