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New Leadership Invigorates Fordham University Press


New Leadership Invigorates Fordham University Press

Based on their experience and reputations, Fordham University Press’ top administrators are  raising the University’s nationwide profile. Helen Tartar joined Fordham University Press as editorial director in October. Since then, she and former associate director Robert Oppedisano, who took over as director on Feb. 1, have been working to expand the press's acquisitions and to make new connections with Fordham scholars.

Helen Tartar has been attending academic conferences (five last fall), sending out dozens of letters and emails to scholars around the world, and getting to know the faculty on Fordham’s three campuses. Oppedisano expects Tartar to play a pivotal role in the coming years as the press deepens its commitment to the areas where it is traditionally strong—such as philosophy, religion and regional history—while selectively expanding the scope of its offerings.

Helen Tartar and Robert Oppedisano
Photo: Peter Freed

“We’re lucky in Helen’s case to have someone who’s already got a wide network of academics to draw upon,” said Oppedisano, who, during a 24-year academic publishing career, has served as marketing and sales director for university presses at Chicago, Columbia and Oxford. “We’ve had some strong points of commonality with the lists that Helen developed at Stanford, so it’s been a very easy transition—and one that will bring many benefits to us because she’s so well known and respected.”

For more than 20 years at Stanford University Press, Tartar worked closely with many top-flight thinkers. Her influence and reputation as an editor were evident in October 2002, when Stanford announced cost-cutting measures that curtailed acquisitions in the humanities and eliminated her position. Dozens of scholars registered their displeasure. In a Nov. 22, 2002, article, The Chronicle for Higher Education reported that Daniel Boyarin, chair of the Department of Near Eastern Studies at the University of California at Berkeley, canceled a book contract with Stanford and, with his co-editors, decided to pull a series on ancient religions. Both projects eventually went to the University of Pennsylvania Press. But now Boyarin, an internationally respected talmudic scholar, is bringing a book to Fordham.

“The book he’s going to publish with us will be Toward a Theory of Allegory, an analysis of midrashic and early Christian readings,” said Tartar, who received the proposal from Boyarin as a kind of “housewarming gift” on her first day in the office. “He’s been working on this for about 15 years, and it’s fabulous.”

According to Oppedisano, one of the ways that the press will grow is by continuing to make new connections with the community of scholars at the University. Last year, for example, the press launched a series on International Humanitarian Affairs edited by Kevin Cahill, M.D., director of Fordham’s Institute of International Humanitarian Affairs. And more recently, Roger Panetta, chair of the history program at Marymount College of Fordham University, agreed to publish a book in conjunction with a multidisciplinary exhibit titled “Westchester: The American Suburb,” which is scheduled to open in the fall of 2005 at the Hudson River Museum in Yonkers, N.Y.

“These are the kinds of connections with the University, where, when they benefit both parties, we really want to develop,” Oppedisano said. “I think everyone will be really pleased to see the expanded directions that we’re taking, working with people in areas of the University that we haven’t typically worked with before. Their projects and their activities work well with ours, and in the past they might have gone to another press.”

Tartar echoed Oppedisano’s thoughts about building on traditional strengths, while seeking to enhance the role of the press as an asset to the University. “That,” she said, “is what I see as most important.

“Of course,” she added, “one of the nice things about being an editor is that you’re a perpetual student. I’m also looking forward to renewing a profound intellectual joy I had—that sense of bringing truly exciting books into the world, things that will keep people thinking for decades.”

— Ryan Stellabotte

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