Features Australia

Fall of the House of Adler

16 February 2019

9:00 AM

16 February 2019

9:00 AM

‘Look here, what’s this book on my desk about Al Capone?’

‘Why, Vice-Chancellor, it’s one of our flagship publications from the university press. It caused quite a stir when it came out …’

‘And what scholarly discipline is it supposed to be part of? Criminology? Sociology? History?’

‘Oh no, none of that, Vice-Chancellor. You might be unaware of it, being new here, but ours is a modern university press. No room for elitism in our lists. I suppose we’d categorise this title as popular sensationalism, although it’s not without an academic element, I assure you. Our cultural studies advisers told me Capone was an immensely more significant figure than his contemporary President Coolidge, and a greater force for freedom and individual initiative, since Coolidge was a Republican and therefore a homophobic binary racist repressor…’

‘Well if you want my opinion, you’re barking up the wrong tree. A university press should publish university books. Things about veterinary science for example, now there’s a field worth exploring …’

Book lovers have been distressed to learn that there’s been a touch of unpleasantness at the nation’s oldest academic publisher, Melbourne University Press. Its CEO since 2003, Louise Adler (wife of Max Gillies, comedian emeritus to the elderly Dismissal-fixated Left) flounced off in dudgeon several weeks ago, tamely followed by four board members. It’s surely no coincidence that their loud departure follows the arrival at the University of Melbourne of a new vice-chancellor, Professor Duncan Maskell, formerly in charge of planning and resources at Cambridge (and sometime head of that university’s veterinary medicine department). Maskell looks like a no-nonsense administrator, and his views on publishing (his favourite book is Sterne’s Tristram Shandy) appear not to be in accord with those of Mrs Gillies and her board groupies, who all took exception to what you’d think was the not unreasonable decision that the university’s official imprint should concentrate on being ‘a high-quality scholarly press’. In other words, less of the gangster’s memoirs genre (it was a Melbourne underworld figure they published, by the way; I was only joking about Al).

The exeunt omnes of Mrs Gillies and her retinue provoked consternation on the Left. Bob Carr, who for some reason was on the board, told the Australian in his usual opinionated way that the loss of the Adler (and presumably himself) will ‘turn this proud and successful independent publisher into a pocket-sized and cloistered publisher of academic scripts.’ Lustreless Liberal Christopher Pyne, endorsing yet again a Labor idea, pronounced that ‘the contribution of MUP’ should be continued on ‘the model of the Conversation’ (or as they really should call it, the Harangue). ‘This is a collapse of the University of Melbourne’s credibility,’ wailed ‘journalist and literary critic’ Rosemary Sorensen in the Daily Review, adding that it ‘was MUP that published Gillian Triggs’ (as though that were something to boast about!), ‘MUP that got Susan Carland’s Fighting Hislam.’

Exactly, say no more – and as well as Susan (less known to the public as Mrs Waleed Aly) a horde of other leftist axe-grinders too. The ‘Little Books on Big Ideas’ series is riddled with them – Sally McManus of the ACTU discoursing on, of all things, ‘fairness’; racism-spotter Tim Soutphommasane On Hate, Stan Grant On (but of course) Identity, Sarah Hanson-Young on why in ‘the era of wolf-whistle politics, women are sick of being degraded’ and, creaking into the fray, the Fighting Temeraire of feminism herself, Germaine Greer On Rape. Add Leigh Sales and The Footy Lady and you begin to see what the new vice-chancellor was wondering at. True, Mrs Gillies also published Tony Abbott and David Kemp, but they floated by like twigs on a leftist and ‘popular’ torrent.

The MUP coup is a smack in the face to the Left because it touches on who’s in charge of our culture, which leftists think they should be. As la Sorensen’s Daily Review piece observed, ‘Once you’re in the Adler camp, it must feel like you belong somewhere warm, supportive and connected to power. Nice.’ Sorry, love, no longer. Time to suck up to someone else.

The Left thrives on conspiracies, so naturally the MUP departures are presented not as a display of thwarted egos but as a cook-up between the new vice-chancellor and the university’s chancellor, Allan Myers QC, who has acted for George Pell and was allegedly miffed at MUP publishing Louise Milligan’s book Cardinal. Even if true that’s not the point. Because it has published so many of their authors, leftists pretend to forget that MUP is not meant to be in competition with general publishers, just as they forget that ‘their’ ABC is not meant to be in competition with Channel 7. And it’s not as though the non-academic ‘best-sellers’ kept the press afloat. MUP was costing the university $1.25 million a year and had run deficits for 15 years. Perhaps the absence of protests from non-leftists is the most eloquent comment on the fall of the House of Adler. Yet when all’s said and done the Left’s kneejerk whinge is unfounded. Given the state of universities it’s unlikely there’ll be an avalanche of conservative titles from the reformed MUP. The Left can rest assured that its general hegemony over Australian publishing, if dented, remains largely intact.

As evidence, there’s no doubt whatever about who’s in charge of another bibliophilic stronghold, the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for non-fiction. Behrouz Boochani, this year’s winner, comes from one of the Left’s favourite categories. He is an illegal immigrant from Iran, at present detained on Manus Island. But as only Quadrant Online editor Roger Franklin has yet pointed out, candidates for the $100,000 prize must be (Rule 7) ‘Australian citizens or permanent residents of Australia.’ Mr Boochani is neither. An impeccably leftist jury gave him the prize anyway, with lofty disregard for the stipulation that ‘[b]reach of the conditions of entry will render an entry invalid’ (Rule 6). In other words, it’s rules schmools when the Left’s interests are in play, and to hell with the rules-compliant entries. It would have helped that Boochani has been published in the Guardian. It wouldn’t have helped had he been, say, a white Afrikaans farmer.

So it’s still business as usual in the leftist literary world. And no doubt once the spotlight’s off, Melbourne University Press will somehow be brought back into line. It just wouldn’t do for even a ‘pocket-sized and cloistered publisher’ to be beyond the leftist grip.

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