June 2009

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After announcing the third round of budget cuts a few weeks ago, I received more than 50 e-mails protesting my decision to accept the Budget Oversight Committee’s (BOC) recommendation, slightly amended, that the College reduce support for The New England Review.  Although the BOC proposed that the College cease all financial support of The Review, I elected to give The Review until December 31, 2011 to eliminate its deficit.
 
I am writing this post to acknowledge the many people who have written to me, and to respond to the concerns they raised in their individual letters.

The message common to virtually every e-mail is not surprising: all who have written point to the great value of The New England Review; the loss of intellectual life that would be felt by its going away; the frailty of literary magazines in general and how none can exist without external support; and how places like Middlebury have some kind of obligation, moral and otherwise, to continue their support of such publications in the name of supporting the arts and intellectual discourse.
 
I agree fully with the first three items above, but not necessarily the last.  That is why I decided to give The Review an additional two-plus years to consider how it might garner greater financial support beyond the subsidy it now receives from Middlebury College.  Given current financial circumstances, which none of the e-mailers seemed willing to confront, I find asking families who are paying $50,000/year in comprehensive fees to, in effect, subsidize a literary magazine that serves a very small slice of the general population and is known only to a handful of Middlebury students, a very hard sell.  That some e-mails mention how several universities, with far deeper pockets than Middlebury, have closed down literary magazines in better economic times should mean something to those who insist that Middlebury continue to subsidize The New England Review.

I am a fan of The Review, and have been for many years.  But as president of this liberal arts college, I also have a responsibility to the students, faculty, staff, and the generous supporters of the College.  In contrast to the small number of people who have published in the NER or read it regularly, I must consider how our institution will weather the current financial challenges and, first and foremost, preserve what is most central to our students’ education.  Perhaps it is normal to pronounce that “no literary magazine breaks even; all require subsidies,” as many e-mailers claimed.  However, it seems unreasonable, indeed illogical, to expect an undergraduate liberal arts college to provide those subsidies when there is little direct benefit to the students who are covering the costs of operation.  This is not to say The Review is not excellent, valuable, or worth preserving.  It surely is.  It simply cannot continue operating as it has, and my hope is that by increasing subscriptions and sponsorships (gifts), plus exploring whether there are alternatives to the current (and expensive) method of production, it will be able to operate without such a significant subsidy.  I should add that, to my knowledge, not a single individual who has written in protest of the College’s decision has contributed financially to help subsidize The Review.
 
We are committed to assisting editor and colleague Stephen Donadio find ways to increase revenues and reduce costs so The Review can continue to publish the high quality writing it has for the past thirty years.  And, of course, I am interested in any suggestions you may have for bolstering The Review’s revenues or reducing its operating costs.

I close by providing a link to an article that appeared in The Chronicle of Higher Education, just as I was completing this post.  An interesting read, and certainly germane to the issue we are facing with The Review.

UPDATE: I have received e-mails letting me know that at least two individuals have made contributions on behalf of the NER since information about the financial situation became public.  We thank those who have made contributions and hope others will do the same and also become subscribers to the magazine.

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