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NUS Press says it chose not to publish essays on Thai politics after consulting with 'stakeholders inside and outside the university'

NUS Press says it chose not to publish essays on Thai politics after consulting with 'stakeholders inside and outside the university'

The NUS Press Singapore logo printed on the spine of a book.

SINGAPORE: The National University of Singapore (NUS) Press said on Monday (Jan 25) that its decision to withdraw the publication of a volume of essays titled "Coup, King, Crisis: A Critical Interregnum in Thailand" was made after it had consulted with stakeholders inside and outside the university. 

Its director, Mr Peter Schoppert, said this in response to CNA's queries, after more than 100 academics signed an open letter accusing the university press of withdrawing the publication of the volume, which touches on sensitive aspects of Thai politics, due to "political pressure". 

“NUS Press understands the real concern academics may have over a university press’ late stage decision not to publish. These decisions are not taken lightly, but a university press has many stakeholders inside and outside the university whose concerns have to be considered," Mr Schoppert told CNA. 

"That includes of course the scholars who are concerned about our decision, our many publishing partners, commercial partners and so on," he added. 

When asked to identify the stakeholders that had offered their considerations, Mr Schoppert said: "We have many stakeholders. We did our best to take different concerns into account."

“As a publisher based in the region, in a very small home market, the decisions we take, considering our stakeholders’ views, may be different than those taken by presses without a stake in the region,” he said. 

In the open letter addressed to Mr Schoppert and NUS President Professor Tan Eng Chye, the editor of the volume Associate Professor Pavin Chachavalpongpun said he had proposed the manuscript to the NUS Press in October 2018. 

“Following the Press’s guidelines, the manuscript went through proper and vigorous peer review process, and all contributors revised their essay accordingly, and in a timely manner,” wrote Assoc Prof Pavin, who teaches at Kyoto University. 

In August 2019, he signed a contract with NUS Press on behalf of the contributors and “completed necessary steps” to ensure the publication deadline of Spring 2020 was met, he said. 

But when the manuscript was “about to go to press”, Mr Schoppert emailed Assoc Prof Pavin on Mar 20, 2020 to inform him of the NUS Press’ decision to cancel the publishing contract. 

Mr Schoppert “failed to give any explanation” regarding the last-minute withdrawal from the planned publication, but advised that the decision “was taken after consultation with stakeholders within and outside the university community”, said Assoc Prof Pavin. 

“It seems reasonable to assume that the NUS Press’s decision was due to political pressure. The unexplained and last minute decision violates the fundamental principles of academic freedom,” he wrote in the letter. 

“The reference to outside stakeholders indicates that individuals and/or interest groups outside of academia have the final say in the publications process. This makes a mockery of the independent peer-review process, calling into question the academic integrity of the press itself.” 

In response to the claims, Mr Schoppert confirmed to CNA that NUS Press did decide to withdraw the planned publication of the volume in March 2020. 

“This decision was made at a late stage in the publishing process,” he said.

“Making that kind of decision is not something a publisher ever does lightly, but the decision was made after consultation with our stakeholders,” said Mr Schoppert.

With the permission of peer reviewers, NUS Press shared their anonymous reviews with other university presses who contacted them with an interest in the book, he added.

“We could only apologise to the editor, Prof Pavin, for the lateness of the decision and do what we could to help him secure a new home for the manuscript ... We did whatever we could to minimise the inconvenience to him and his contributors.”

Source: CNA/hw(hs)

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