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Will budget cuts mean the end of New England Review?

Middlebury College has told New England Review, its literary journal, that it has until the end of 2011 to become self-supporting. New England Review, founded in 1978, is a respected and interesting literary journal. Its most recent issue includes newly revealed letters by Aldous Huxley, poems translated by John Kinsella and fiction by Keith Lee Morris.

Since its founding, the journal has been supported by Middlebury; currently the college provides office space and pays the salaries of the professors who act as editors and most production costs. Inside Higher Ed talked to editor Stephen Donadio about the news:

"We're an incubator for literature," said Donadio. And he added that the Review, along with the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference, which is affiliated with the college, have given Middlebury enhanced stature in the literary world. And he noted that the Review has the college's students as interns, and that editors teach at the college. What the magazine doesn't have is a huge subscriber base. Donadio said that the figure is under 2,000. That's not low for literary magazines, but it also doesn't lend itself to a self-sustaining business model.

The economic downturn has been tough on Middlebury, which is making cuts in meal plans and buildings-and-grounds budgets as well. According to Inside Higher Ed, the college extended the self-supporting deadline beyond initial recommendations and has offered to help with the transition.

Not surprisingly, Ted Genoways, editor of Virginia Quarterly Review, thinks the New England Review should continue operating. In two well-reasoned posts (Part 1, Part 2), he makes a compelling case:

It is high time that universities and colleges decide how they define their core missions. Is the goal breadth of education or depth? I would argue that institutions stand a better chance of long-term survival by focusing on what makes them unique and investing deeply in those areas.... I’m not suggesting that literary journals are a critical part of the work of higher education and so each and every college and university should have one. What I’m saying is that New England Review at Middlebury College and Southern Review at LSU build on and enrich the fundamental identities of their universities. Those institutions would be diminished by their loss.

In recent years, Genoways points out, Boston University's Partisan Review and Duke's DoubleTake folded after support was withdrawn. LSU's Southern Review is currently under threat as well. Whether the New England Review will be added to the casualty list remains to be seen.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

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Compelling? For whom? The 2350 undergraduates who subsidize this magazine for what? 2 internships/year? A short winter term (4-week) course offered by the associate editor?

In add seriousness, when budgets are being cut, and higher education institutions are finally being forced to asked to be accountable to the students who they are educating, this move, while unfortunate (as the NER is a fine magazine), should be applauded. On would expect Mr. Genoways and all others in his field to defend the Review, but from the information released by the committee that recommended the elmination of the magazine (the recommendation was amended to give the NER 2.5 years to get additional support), the cost to the College is $250,000/year, excluding some overhead costs picked up by the College. When an institution is trying to avoid layoffs, it becomes a fair question: 5-8 staff positions or the NER?

This financial crisis will uncover the free-riders in society. Artistic journals need to find a way to be more cost-effective. The best arguments people like Mr.Genoways can offer is that these magazines are costly and need to be paid for...by someone, but obviously not the readership. Unfortunately, in tight budget times, it is inconceivable for an undergraduate liberal arts college to choose to cover the costs of a magazine ratthen than to support programs that directly educate its students. If Middlebury is like other private schools with substantial endowment loss during the past 18 months, they need to make choices, and one has to wonder what the Mr. Genoways of the world would like an undergradutae college to cut instead of support for a magazine? Where is the readership for these magazines, and if it is so vital to the future of letters, why don't readers choose to support the magazines by not purchasing other things? Simple: because institutions like Middlebury had been willing to cover the costs, but we are in another universe today, and it is time for editors and publishers to think creativity about reducing costs, increasing readership, and therefore revenues.

Has Mr. Genoways and his ilk read the newspapers about the financial crisis?


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