Jonathan Yardley {Style, Sept. 14} admonishes university presses to "be scholars first and publishers second," criticizes those that publish books the average Jack or Jill might buy and laments the general decline of what he chooses to call "standards." Since one of the books identified as exemplary of this lamentable state of affairs has just been published by the press I direct, I would like to reply.

Mr. Yardley assumes automatically that publishing for people other than scholars is too tricky for university publishers and that such publishing is inevitably the road to shoddy books and shabby arguments. Stay in your ghetto, he seems to be saying. Do not venture into neighborhoods other than those you were assigned 50 years ago. What he ignores is the precipitous decline in sales of scholarly books in the past 20 years (due to the collapse of library markets and the fragmentation of curricula in universities), simultaneous with increased university pressure on scholarly publishers to lose less money or none at all.

It is easy for Mr. Yardley to assert that my first obligation is not to make money but to contribute to scholarship and knowledge. Who is subsidizing his elitist vision of the dissemination of knowledge? Certainly not the National Endowment for the Humanities, the foundations or the universities that benefit from university presses but do not support them. Where is this voodoo marketplace where it is uncouth to match expenses to income, and how do I get into it?

Mr. Yardley needs to understand that universities and scholars use the university presses not solely to enrich the world, but to validate the scholar's progress up the academic ladder. Traditionally, university presses have been central to the "publish or perish" ethic. If the presses now refuse to be bound by the personnel system, who is to say that the books we publish only because they are good books that need to be published and read will not in fact enrich the world of knowledge?

The standards by which the university publishers I know select their books remain high. Some of the most egregious publishing errors are made not by university publishers who lower their standards, but by scholars who abandon theirs by deserting the university presses that published their first books for the higher royalties, larger advances and imagined fame of the commercial world. What happens there, of course, is that their books disappear within 18 months into the shredders. By attempting to hold onto their more salable authors, by venturing into new neighborhoods and by taking their chances in the marketplace, the university presses are not abandoning their standards. Rather, they are, I think, raising the standards of the publishing industry in general.

KENNETH ARNOLD Director, Rutgers University Press New Brunswick, N.J.