Since September 2008, Robert Mandel has been a man on a mission trying to fulfill the visions he had in store for Texas Tech University Press when he arrived.
Being the director of TTU Press for the last four years, Mandel believes the transformation of TTU Press from publishing mostly regionally based books to including a variety of national and international publications has pushed them to the next level.
“It was solid when I came, but it was a regional publishing house,” Mandel said. “I wanted to advance our position by making the press more national and international, and I think we have been successful.”
To understand how Mandel has been able to make TTU Press relevant beyond the surrounding region, it is necessary to look back at Mandel’s global journey throughout his life. He said it has given him the necessary criteria to be successful in his current position.
“Being in different cultures and contexts helps you to improve your current situation by being able to draw back on those experiences,” Mandel said.
Mandel was born in New Jersey, moved to Detroit when he was five years old, moved back to New Jersey at age 12, and then moved to Milwaukee. He said his family moved a lot due to his father being sick and losing his job because of the illness.
When it was time for Mandel to head to college, he chose the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He said while growing up he was interested in the academia world, particular history, but his father insisted he go to law school because other members of his family were lawyers.
He said after he finished undergraduate classes, he enrolled in law school to fulfill a promise he made to his dad.
“My father always wanted me to go to law school, and I promised him I would,” Mandel said. “I went right after undergrad classes for eight weeks.”
But in the second week of the law school program, Mandel experienced a life-changing moment.
“My father died after a series of heart attacks, very young at the age of 52,” Mandel said. “That really changed my life.”
At the same time he was in law school, Mandel said he created a student organization with a few other people called the Radical Law Students Association. As part of the group, they went to demonstrations held against the war in Vietnam and would act as observers for potential arrestees and then would act as witnesses for the arrestees.
“There was one famous demonstration against Dow, the maker of napalm,” Mandel said. “300 students sat down to prevent job interviews at Dow and the police arrived and tried to eject the students but they were repulsed. Then they called the state police and began throwing tear gas to disperse the crowd.”
According to Mandel, police even pulled him and the other observers out of the building.
After his father died, he said he was facing a crossroads in his life pertaining to his career.
“I had one of those moments in your life when you decide that maybe I should do what I really want to do, not what my father wanted me to do,” Mandel said.”
Mandel said his European intellectual history teacher, George Mosse, gave him encouragement earlier in the year which gave Mandel the confidence to pursue a new career.
“Every year he selected one student in his class who he perceived might have potential to go to graduate school,” Mandel said. “In 1967, he selected me and encouraged me to go to graduate school in history. I never thought about going to grad school in history because I always thought I’d go on to law school.”
After getting his master’s degree in history from Wisconsin-Madison, Mandel said in 1969 he went to get his Ph.D. at the University of Toronto. He said after attending classes from 1969-1973, he taught history at various universities in Canada, such as Brock University.
He said teaching delayed him from being able to complete his thesis on a study of a business owner creating a social security system for his workers in France until 1977, but later received his Ph.D. in 1978.
Mandel said he applied for jobs as a teacher, but one of his friends advised him to apply for the open position of assistant editor for business and economics at Praeger Publishers. Not having much experience with business, Mandel didn’t have high expectations, but he got the job.
Mandel said he was about to face another crossroads in his career as he was also offered a teaching job.
“I was at another crossroads in my career and I decided to try my hand at publishing, if it doesn’t work out I can always go back to teaching,” Mandel said.
He said there was one negative aspect of switching careers. He made $18,500 as a teacher, but would only be making $11,000 at Praeger Publishers.
Deciding that he couldn’t live on $11,000, Mandel said he pursued a job where he could use his teaching and publishing skills. He was hired as the senior acquisitions editor at State University of New York Press, and it paid $19,000.
While working for the SUNY Press, Mandel said he published a series about modern Jewish literature and culture. This series ended up being reviewed by the New York Times and the Washington Post. After working there for four years, Mandel felt it was time to move to the next level.
He said he applied for a job as senior editor at Indiana University. With Indiana’s director on the phone ready to hire him, Mandel told him he wanted to be assistant director, not senior editor. He hung up the phone after not being able to compromise, but two hours later he was hired as the assistant director.
While discussing books he published during his time at Indiana University Press, he said a book titled “Our Gang” about Jewish criminals in New York City was one of his favorites, and it was designated a Choice Outstanding Academic Book of the Year.
According to Mandel, he left Indiana after four years to become director at Wayne St. University Press in Detroit. He was the director from 1985-1990, when he decided to create his own regional publishing company, A&M Publishing. In 2000 Mandel left Syracuse to go to back to his alma mater of Wisconsin.
In 2006 he left UW Press to live out a dream of living in Alaska, where he became the director of the University of Alaska Press.
With 30 years of experience in publishing after being at the UA Press for two years, Mandel said Texas Tech offered him the director position at TTU Press, which he ultimately accepted.
Jada Rankin, the marketing coordinator at TTU Press who was recently given the job by Mandel, said Mandel is very passionate about his job.
“He uses his personal affiliations he has acquired throughout his career and brings them to work to use in a professional manner,” Rankin said.
Rankin said during her time working at TTU Press, she has seen the vision Mandel put in place succeed.
“He tries to make TTU Press more of a national publisher,” Rankin said.
While discussing the day-to-day duties of his job, which includes business and editorial matters, Mandel said he tries to mainly focus on a couple of items.
“My daily job is to continually develop books reflective of the strengths of Texas Tech University and our geographic area,” Mandel said. “I also try to think of how to make the press more efficient and how to improve our technology.”
Mandel also said making the press more efficient is easier said than done.
“The most difficult part of the job is the goal of trying to publish books and finding important ones in a cost-effective way,” Mandel said.”
According to Mandel, his passion for books is what keeps him enthusiastic about coming to work everyday.
“It’s gratifying when a book gets national reviews,” Mandel said. “It’s like a high after reading the reviews.”
Regarding his visions for the future of TTU Press, Mandel said his job experiences around the world have allowed him to better understand what people are interested in.
“We see the future and how the sales of hard copy books are declining so we include an electronic edition for every book we publish,” Mandel said. “We have to embrace the future and transform the press to embrace it.”