In a time when alternative truths have acquired the same status as substantiated and demonstrable facts, and when the ultimate democracy of the Internet is sending out an unstoppable stream of opinions and perspectives, an academic publisher like Leuven University Press that subjects its publications to a multiple review procedure is a very important gatekeeper.
Marike Schipper, Director from May 2006 to May 2016
Please introduce yourself briefly.
Marike Schipper, born and raised in the Netherlands, studied Literature and English Language and Literature in Utrecht and Cambridge, moved to Leuven in 2006 to lead Leuven University Press - a big and exciting step that turned out to be a fantastic experience.
How did you come to work at Leuven UP?
After graduating, I had been working at Amsterdam University Press - Leuven University Press's Amsterdam counterpart - since 2000, first as a marketing manager, later as a publisher. In this capacity, I met Jo Tollebeek, who was on the editorial board there. When my predecessor Hilde Lens was about to retire, Jo sounded out whether I might be interested in applying for the position of director in Leuven. At first, that seemed literally 'very far away' - my life at that time was mainly centred in and around Amsterdam. But after a few exploratory talks, among others with the then rector Mark Vervenne, I became very enthusiastic about the opportunities Leuven had to offer and I applied. And I did not regret it for a second
Which moment, project or book at Leuven University Press will you always remember and why?
An absolutely memorable moment was the first meeting of our brand new editorial board. The idea that Leuven University Press would set up a separate advisory committee in addition to the series' editorial boards was certainly not immediately embraced by everyone. Who should be part of it? The idea of including not only professors from Leuven but also academics from other universities - on the one hand to guarantee a refreshing outside perspective and on the other to broaden our scope of acquisition - was not an obvious one. As a Dutch newcomer, I was not immediately aware of all the sensitivities present in the Flemish university landscape... But after several introductions inside and outside Leuven, the first editorial board was set up. A committee of then five professors gave their advice in outlining the publishing policy and setting up the external review procedures.
And it worked. The support, the trust, the fascinating conversations and sometimes tough discussions around the table formed the backbone of an academic publishing policy and legitimised the publishing decisions we had to make. I have always considered those evening meetings with the editorial board, usually with a modest snack and drink, as the most pleasant, valuable and instructive meetings throughout my time at Leuven University Press.
Which projects/activities are you particularly proud of?
What a difficult question! There have been so many projects that are very dear to me - because the collaboration with an author or series leader went particularly well and harmoniously, or because a project seemed very difficult to bring about at first but in the end we succeeded in completing the publication.
The over 2000 bound pages of De geschiedenis van de Nederlandse syntaxis [The History of Dutch Syntax], with its 'mango-yellow' flyleaves, was such a book. Joop van der Horst had been working on the book for many years and a hard copy publication did not seem obvious at first. Raising the funds, typesetting the 2014 pages, editing them, even designing the table of contents were painstaking efforts. But the two hefty volumes now on the shelf harbour a wealth of information of which the importance for future generations of Dutch language scholars can hardly be overestimated. Or the transcription of some handwritten texts by Lyotard into the series by Herman Parret: hitherto unpublished texts with reflections on contemporary art and artists. The negotiations with Lyotard’s emotional widow in the Parisian Café de Flore in order to obtain permission for the publication of the six-volume series, the acquisition of the necessary but sometimes untraceable visual material, the immense challenge for the designer to place French and English texts on opposite pages in parallel so that the texts could be compared and interpreted word for word - it was a long-drawn-out project. But it resulted in a wonderful series that received broad international recognition and was ultimately awarded the Best Dutch Book Designs Prize.
I have always particularly enjoyed working on books where we succeeded in optimally aligning design and content, not only for aesthetic reasons, but also out of the idea that good graphic design can help the reader to structure and fathom often complex scientific information.
But what I also still remember is the five-yearly stress whether the new economics textbook would leave the presses on time - which, luckily, it always did! And the endless search for suitable reviewers who were prepared to read a manuscript for us... unpaid and preferably before the end of the month. Or my futile attempt to change the Leuven University Press logo in a burst of enthusiasm for innovation... It proved to be much more untouchable than I had anticipated!
So many projects come to mind that I think back on with pleasure, but ultimately I have especially fond memories of the authors, the series managers, the editors and translators, and most certainly of my direct colleagues with whom I had the privilege of working in Leuven. It was a really fine experience.
Where do you see the future of Leuven University Press?
In a time when alternative truths have acquired the same status as substantiated and demonstrable facts, and when the ultimate democracy of the Internet is sending out an unstoppable stream of opinions and perspectives, an academic publisher like Leuven University Press that subjects its publications to a multiple review procedure is a very important gatekeeper. The fact that a university press also provides a platform for scientific information that matters irrespective of departmental size, and does not operate solely to financially satisfy shareholders, bolsters its credibility and integrity. That the General Management of KU Leuven has had a university press within its midst for 50 years, is a commendable example of a scientific institution that recognises and actively endorses the importance of a university press.
But Leuven University Press is a vigorous fifty-year-old that will not rest on her laurels. It is a vibrant and inventive publishing house, where the passion for academic books and the relationship with the author are of central importance. A publisher that is fully in tune with the times and has jumped on the Open Access bandwagon with full conviction, with the aim of making science more accessible and thus actively contributing to a world that is more sustainable, tolerant and better informed. So, to Veerle, Beatrice, Mirjam, Annemie, Patricia, Margreet and Nadine, congratulations on your great work! Keep up the good work and let's get to 100!
Pictures: Marike Schipper at the Press's 45th anniversary reception in 2016 // Marike Schipper and Geert Bouckaert at the Press's 40th anniversary reception in 2011 // The Leuven University Press team in 2016