Over 300 professors and curators from more than 70 universities and museums around the world signed a petition decrying Yale University Press London’s decision to lay off prominent former art editors Gillian Malpass and Sally Salvesen.
Delivered on July 8 to Yale University President Peter Salovey, University Librarian Susan Gibbons and Yale University Press Director John Donatich, the letter states that for the past 40 years, Yale University Press London has established an “unparalleled record” for top quality academic publications on the visual arts. The letter credits these achievements to Malpass and Salvesen, both of whom worked for Yale University Press London for over 30 years. Following Yale University Press London’s decision to fire Malpass and Salvesen, the authors state their fear that their removal will lead to “considerable reputational damage” to both the Press and the University. Malpass and Salvesen will be replaced by Mark Eastment, former publishing director at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. In an interview with The Bookseller, a business magazine in the book industry, managing director of Yale University Press London Heather McCallum said the restructuring will help Yale University Press “modernize and position itself for growth, reflecting changes in the industry at large.”
Gibbons said that Yale University Press London is still in a confidential consultation phase and therefore cannot comment on the removal of Malpass and Salvesen. Donatich was unavailable to comment for this story.
“As we understand it, the two outstanding commissioning art editors, Gillian Malpass and Sally Salvesen, are to be laid off, a development that has left us incredulous,” the letter reads. “If a distinguished organization like Yale University Press can at a stroke dispense with the knowledge acquired over many years by these two exceptional professionals, then its commitment to the publishing of scholarly art, architecture, and design books on a comparable scale must be in question.”
Jules Lubbock, co-author of the petition and professor emeritus at the University of Essex, said that while the decision making process to remove the editors began in January, no members of the academic community were informed and only found out several months afterward. In an interview with the News, he added that he has heard that Malpass and Salvesen are under a legal restriction not to disclose any details regarding their removal. Further, he emphasized that the “incomparable” quality of Yale’s art publishing due to the work of Malpass and Salvesen makes their removal all the more incredulous.
Beginning in 1973, Yale University Press has established itself as a leader in art publishing, starting with the tenure of former Yale University Press London managing director John Nicoll who went on to hire Malpass and Salvesen. Since then, the Press’ books have received numerous acclaimed prizes in the art book world, including one Alfred H. Barr Award for museum catalogues and four Charles Rufus Morey Book Awards for works on art history, all within the last decade. News outlets such as The Boston Globe and the San Francisco Chronicle have also praised the Press’ art history books.
Similarly, Andrew Saint, the petition’s co-author and general editor of Yale University Press publication The Survey of London, attributed the current success of the Press’s art list entirely to Malpass and Salvesen. He added that anyone associated with the sphere of art history publishing would agree that Yale University Press London is the foremost leader in the field.
“Ask anyone who knows about such things and they will tell you that Yale UP London are simply the tops in the international English-speaking world for art history publishing. It may be that many in New Haven including people high up in the university are unaware of this, but it is for this and this alone that the name of Yale is held in high repute in many circles,” Saint said told the News. “The campaign to destroy what has been achieved to international acclaim is perverse and vandalistic.”
In the Press’ response to the petition, Donatich and McCallum assured the petitioners that the art list is not under threat and that “nothing could be further from the truth.” Further, the response added that the reorganization of the Press is company-wide and not confined solely to the art department. In the context of the ever changing publishing environment, the response reads, maintaining the art list’s world-class standards requires a fundamental reappraisal of the Press’ entire operation.
While it has already been finalized that Malpass will be leaving the Press in August, details of Salvesen’s removal have not yet been released.
“The reorganization has been designed to support and sustain [Yale University Press London’s] academic art publishing and to build on and continue its distinguished legacy,” the Press’ reply reads. “We can assure you that it was thoroughly researched and discussed at great length, and it has the full support of the YUPL Trustees, Yale University Press and Yale University leadership.”
But members of the international academic community remain unconvinced. Lubbock said that none of the over 300 people who signed the petition were consulted or aware of any consultation within the Yale faculty. He added that at the end of the Press response, the Press cites its “wonderful art list” prepared in 2017 as a testament to its continuing commitment to quality — despite the fact that this list was compiled by Malpass and Salvesen.
Others who had personally worked with Malpass and Salvesen expressed similar sentiments. Art historian Aimee Price ‘63 GRD ‘72 said during the numerous years that she worked on publishing her book with Malpass, she could not have asked for a better editor. She noted that Malpass’ encouragement, engagement and expertise made large contributions to the success of her book, which is a study of French artist Pierre Puvis De Chavannes.
Nicoll said that the Press’ restructuring decision was ill-made and eccentric. He added that while he does not know exactly why Malpass and Salvesen were fired, he noted that it is clear the revenue generated by publishing academic art books has fallen.
“I do think one of the things that bothers me the most about [Malpass being laid off] is that Yale really stands for something in the scholarly field and I don’t think [the Press] was ever intended to be a money maker,” Price said. “Yale really means something, so I really hope this is just a bad mistake.”