After Ohio media reported Wednesday that the University of Akron is shutting down its eponymous press amid budget cuts, UA representatives informed PW that the reports are incorrect. According to Lawrence Burns, v-p of advancement at the university, the press is not closing down; its operations are being transferred to the university’s libraries division.
Despite this claim, the University of Akron Press' employees were given pink slips on July 28. The hand-delivered letters, given to the press' three full-time employees, notified them that their positions are being eliminated.
The press, launched in 1988, publishes books for both the academic and trade markets and is renowned for its poetry list. A sponsor of the annual Akron Poetry Prize, the press publishes two books of poetry each year. It is distributed by Atlas Books, a division of Bookmasters.
While the editor and the production coordinator were given two weeks notice, press director Thomas Bacher was ordered to take a two-week paid leave. His position will be terminated in January 2016, when his contract expires. Poetry editor Mary Biddinger will retain her faculty teaching position in the English department.
Bacher came to the University of Akron Press in 2008 from Purdue University Press, where he had spent a decade as director. In an interview with PW, he said that there seems to be "a misunderstanding" among university officials about the press’ future status.
During a meeting on Tuesday with the university provost, Bacher said he was told he would be spending the next six months “helping close up the press.” Since receiving that news, Bacher has been contacting authors and alerting them of the situation. He has been assuring the press' authors that he will make every attempt to publish books that are far along in the production process. The press has approximately 200 titles in print, with about 10 titles being released this fall, including Jennifer Moore’s debut collection of poems, The Veronica Maneuver, which is shipping in early August.
“We had no backlist when I came in seven years ago,” Bacher said. “We’ve built up such a strong list since then.” He disclosed that the press’ annual budget is just under $210,000 and that it has never sought funds from the university beyond that figure.
According to Bacher, the cost of keeping the press open is nominal. “Our budget, in the context of the university budget, is pretty miniscule,” he said. To highlight this fact, he pointed out that the school's football team has a budget of approximately $8 million, and “loses money every year.”
Bacher also speculated that if the university has to outsource editing, production, and the marketing of books, to fulfill its contractual obligations to authors, “it will cost more than if they’d kept the press running.” If the press closes, it may also have to refund entry fees for its annual poetry contest, which attracted a record number of entrants this year, at approximately 500.
Oliver de la Paz, who has published three books of poems with the press since 2009, called the possibility of the press' closure "a devastating blow." He added that the move is unsurprising, given the university is becoming a place where the arts are “being attacked.” De la Paz pointed out that, along with the press, UA announced it would also be shutting down its performing arts center and multicultural center.
The statement provided to PW though, by UA's media relations office, said the multicultural center was being folded into UA's Office of Diversity.
When asked about the press being folded into the libraries division, interim library division dean Phyllis O’Connor declined to comment. Additionally, the UA media relations department did not respond to a request for more information after its initial statement about the press. The statement from the media relations department was simply this: "UA's commitment to both diversity and the support of the humanities is resolute."
UPDATE: After this story was published, PW received a statement from Wayne Hill, associate v-p and chief marketing officer at the University of Akron. Responding to questions about how the press will operate once transferred to the Division of Libraries, he said that "the director will work with the interim dean of Libraries and the Provost to assess Press operations and recommend priorities going forward. It is anticipated that books under contract will be completed. Proposals under review or consideration for publication will be evaluated.”