Efficiency will woo people back to idea of public management

The head of Crete University Press, Stephanos Trahanas, told Kathimerini in an interview that establishing Greece’s first university press was a difficult bet that had to be won. «The lack of prior Greek experience and, above all, a certain authorial and competitive ethos cultivated by an entrenched system of university publications» were the basic difficulties. «Students were not used to the idea of having a number of books for one subject, nor were university writers used to the equally self-evident notion that books had to be judged before being published – what’s more, by international criteria of quality.» For the wager to be completely won, however, what is needed is the development of a tradition, which requires several generations of experience for a university press. We live in an age where private management prevails over public management. Do you believe that under these conditions it is possible for state-run publishing bodies, such as university presses, to be successful? Strangely enough, yes – as long as you can break the barrier of distrust and low expectations raised by anything state-run in this country. If you manage this – through steady production of a body of work of distinct character and quality – then you get a really interesting about-turn. The idea of public ownership is reimbued with all its old, lost nobility. (…) It becomes a powerful comparative advantage. You are enfolded in the reading public’s love and trust exactly because you’re a public organization – one that does its work well. Does this have a more general bearing? Although I’m wary of generalizations, I think yes. For those who really care about the future of public institutions in this country, what I have said above has an underlying message. Nostalgia for public ownership – a reminder of the community – has not yet been eradicated from our communal memory. It is a chapter that is now scorned, unless we do something about its renewal. Do you foresee any renewal? Will the gloomy image of state bodies in this country change? I’ll tell a very general truth called… «the second thermodynamic maxim of social phenomena.» The maxim is as follows: While there’s no need to do anything to make things worse – they manage that all by themselves – constant effort is needed in order to improve things or even to maintain the status quo. And that’s why predictions of worse to come are so popular in this country, and elsewhere. Because they are self-fulfilling. You don’t have to do anything except let things float and, if necessary, float with them, and the prophecy will certainly come true. If, however, you say that things will become a little better – and you mean it – then you have to do something, whether as a society or as an individual… It isn’t enough to simply watch the struggle as a spectator. To come back to books, what, in your opinion, makes a publishing house successful? For publishing houses with a demanding reading public… there are two basic factors: a distinct character and high quality. The first is just as important as the second. The books of a quality publisher should create a kind of «climate,» a mental environment into which each book fits naturally, like an instrument in a symphony orchestra from which people know what kind of music to expect. What other university presses presently exist in Greece and what are the prospects for them setting down roots in this country? There are the university presses of the National Technical University of Athens and the University of Patras (they’ve been around for seven years) and more recent ones set up by the universities of Macedonia and Thessaly. And, from what I know, the whole venture is being discussed seriously by other universities. Indeed, the Macedonia University Press is organizing a day conference on precisely that question. But in the last analysis, the future will be judged… by our ability to realize the concept of public management, in its highest form, in the world of the scientific books.

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