Peer review and the Syndicate at Cambridge University Press
The peer review process at Cambridge University Press includes the ‘go/no go’ decision of our Syndicate body for every new book and journal, assuring the integrity and quality of everything we publish. This additional level of review and approval takes place at the Syndicate meeting, where formal agreement is sought for all publishing proposals.
The Press Syndicate is the governing body of Cambridge University Press, and consists of eighteen senior members of the University of Cambridge. These members, known as ‘Syndics’, oversee the Press’s business and must give their formal approval to all titles published. This applies to all authors, even Nobel Prize winners!
If attending a Syndicate meeting thirty years ago, one would find the Syndics sat around the large table of the Oriel Room wearing gowns, the air thick with smoke from their pipes and cigarettes. Editors who were called to present book proposals to the meeting were not allowed to look a Syndic in the eye, with the exception of the chairman, through whom all communication was routed.
Thankfully, things have become more relaxed over the years. Where there were once ashtrays there are now bottles of mineral water. Where there was once strict a strict hierarchy for communication, now the Syndics converse casually with Press editors before and after the meeting.
Yet one thing that remains unchanged is the rigour of the review process. During the meeting itself, careful consideration and debate surrounds the selected titles and other topics for discussion, and Press editors and project representatives are quizzed on many different aspects of their proposals. The function of the Syndics as intellectual gatekeepers remains as vital as ever.
For our books, this discussion is an extension of the wider review process that has already taken place: the proposal has already been through peer review and a lengthy internal sales, marketing and editorial review before reaching the Syndicate. However in the realm of journals, the Syndics’ role is slightly different: they oversee proposals for new journals in their entirety, debating whether the Press should take on or create each journal in the first place. Again, this is one of the final stages of a wider process: after the invitation to tender from a journal or initial discussions around the creation of a new journal, each new project is subject to an internal editorial, sales and marketing assessment. If the Press decides to submit a proposal and becomes the chosen publisher, or to create a new journal, the project will be sent out for peer review. Thus before reaching the Syndicate meeting, there has already been rigorous debate about all aspects of the project.
When looking at book proposals, the Syndics are less concerned with the intricate details of a project rather the project as a whole. Will it enhance our list in the discipline? Do the peer review reports flag any overarching concerns with the quality of the research and the integrity of the work? When discussing taking on or creating a new journal, the Syndics debate the journal’s scope, its finances, its quality and reputation. Projects can be suspended or rejected at this stage if there are insurmountable concerns, and in many cases adjustments are made to reflect the discussions. Thus, our close relationship with the University is reflected in all of our publishing.
The Syndicate meeting is the final stage before a formal commitment is made to a book or author in form of a contract. Director of Syndicate Affairs Kevin Taylor describes how “The imprint of the Cambridge University Press Syndicate on a book is a mark of its quality, showing that it has been carefully and responsibly reviewed, and that more than one pair of eyes and more than a nakedly commercial pair have overseen its development.”
Indeed the Syndicate process and the wider peer review process is a discipline which continues to uphold and safeguard the standards of everything we publish.