Wednesday, July 24, 2024

Shohini Ghose in a CISS University of Sydney video.

University Press Week and its more than 20 literary events across the country are underway, ending Friday, and presses in and around Cambridge are included – not just in the festivities, but on the Association of University Presses’ list of the 103 best publications by university presses released in honor of this week.

Examples include the Harvard Education Press’ “Whatever It Is, I’m Against It: Resistance to Change in Higher Education” by Brian Rosenberg; the MIT Press’ “Her Space, Her Time: How Trailblazing Women Scientists Decoded the Hidden Universe” by Shohini Ghose; and the Brandeis University Press’ “We’re Here to Help: When Guardianship Goes Wrong” by Diane Diamond.

University presses value academic integrity more highly than what will sell to a mass market, which lets authors dive more deeply.

Rosenberg said university presses are receptive to ideas that stray from the mainstream, resulting in “a lot of really important works of history [that otherwise] wouldn’t be published.” As president in residence of the Harvard Graduate School of Education and president of Macalester College in Minneapolis/St. Paul, he’s in a position to know.

His book is on the importance of changing higher education before it’s too late, and one of the most practical and important changes he advocates for is changing the college calendar – in his view, operating only eight months a year is an incredibly expensive and inefficient way to run a university, and the four years it takes to get a bachelor’s degree could be substantially cut.

Colleges across the country are struggling, and those difficulties are only going to get worse with a coming demographic cliff: Because of a drop in birthrates during the Great Recession of 2007-2009, the number of 18-year-olds graduating from high school is going to fall by about 15 percent starting in about 2025. It’s an existential threat, especially for small and midsize colleges already on the brink.

“In this country, we wait until things are on the verge of collapse before doing anything about them,” Rosenberg said. “There are 4,000 colleges in the country. Maybe 100 are in that position where they are secure and don’t need to change, but the rest are going to have to figure out how they’re going to survive.”

Rosenberg, who was approached to write this book by Jayne Fargnoli, editor in chief of the Harvard Education Press, said he’s grateful for the collaboration. University presses “publish stuff that commercial presses won’t publish,” Rosenberg said. “You also get more attention, just because they’re not as massive.”

“Her Space, Her Time”

Ghose, a physicist, wrote of sexism in the sciences in “Her Space, Her Time,” seeking to inspire young girls by examining the often overlooked histories of female scientists. She was aided by MIT Press’ Diverse Voices Grant, a recent initiative for writers who might typically go unheard. “This is how we make change,” she said.

“During my career, I actually felt quite lonely, often being the only woman in the classroom and certainly the only woman of color in the work environment, even today. And that always makes one question, ‘Do I belong here?’” Ghose said.

One of the stories that outraged her most was that of Joyce Neighbors, who was involved in the first satellite the United States launched into space, the Explorer 1. She had such a critical role that she was invited to sign the mission chart – but was told, “Don’t put your full name, just put your initials, because we don’t want a woman’s name on the chart.”

In addition to measures inspiring women to join the sciences, such as her book, workshops, mentoring and recruitment, Ghose thinks more emphasis should be put on systemic changes such as providing child care and remedying wage gaps, slower climbs up career ladders and statistically low female access to lab supplies.

“I hope we can fix the system,” Ghose said, “and not just keep trying to fix the women.”

“We’re Here to Help”

For Diamond, who also seeks to fix a system, the Brandeis University Press’ interest in her work was more than a larger press would’ve shown and helped her find an audience for investigative work affecting the lives of millions of American citizens. The 2020 black comedy movie “I Care a Lot,” which streams on Netflix, may have introduced some people to the issue, but there’s been an even bigger example of the problem walking, talking – and singing and dancing – among us.

“I’m here to tell you that it’s not just Britney Spears,” Diamond said. “There are about 2 million Americans that currently live under guardianship or conservatorship. They live under court control.”

In a guardianship, someone’s assets and activities are controlled by a court-appointed “guardian” because the person has shown they can no longer manage them on their own. The idea, in theory, is reasonable. Put into practice, it can lead to losing complete control over one’s life and money. Spears just escaped a conservatorship overseen by her father, who made her career decisions.

But guardianship more typically begins when a family is in discord over what to do with a parent with dementia, for example. Someone consults a lawyer to try to get the upper hand and end the strife, and the lawyer will likely suggest guardianship without testing the mother too closely to see if she is truly incapable of caring for herself – because guardianship requires a court case that ensures the lawyer a payday, unlike other options. A judge, Diamond said, will often choose a “professional guardian” to avoid family conflict, and thus, millions of Americans end up giving their lives and possessions to complete strangers. Every year, $50 billion is seized by U.S. courts from people under guardianship. With limited controls in place, it is impossible to know how much of these assets were taken from a place of kindness and how many were the lost valuables of victims with no say in the matter.

“They have their civil rights stripped, so they can’t hire an attorney to fight this, and all of their property, money and investments are immediately confiscated and put into the name of the guardian,” Diamond said. “The guardianship system is a big, open bleeding wound.”

A University Press Week event is scheduled for 7 p.m. Friday in Cambridge: Branko Milanovic will read from “Visions of Inequality: From the French Revolution to the End of the Cold War,” published by Harvard University Press, at  Harvard Book Store, 1256 Massachusetts Ave., Harvard Square, Cambridge. Free.