A number of states throughout the country have reduced funding to public universities. In trying to cut costs, some university systems are taking a hard look at their presses. While one university is considering shutting down its press, others continue to support theirs—but expect them to rely more on their own resources and less on institutional funding.
Illinois, which has a Republican governor and a Democratic legislature, has been hobbled since July 2015 by a budget stalemate with no end in sight; without a budget, the state cannot release funds to its nine public universities, including the three housing scholarly presses, forcing them to trim budgets to deal with the shortfall. Laurie Matheson, director of the University of Illinois Press, at the state’s flagship campus in Champaign, said that UIP continues to “publish the best books we can with the resources we have available.” UIP publishes more than 120 titles and 33 journals each year.
Barb Martin, the director of Southern Illinois University Press, in Carbondale, echoed Matheson’s sentiment, but was more forthcoming about the cuts to its budget. SIU Press has lost 60% of its funding from the university in the past six or seven years, Martin said; 12% was cut this past year. About 17% of SIU Press’s budget, or $170,000, comes from a university subsidy. SIU Press, which had about $1.1 million in revenue last fiscal year and publishes about 40 titles annually, has cut back on staff since 2010, down from 16 to 11, and because of a hiring freeze, it will lose another position when its typesetter retires this fall. SIU wants to keep its press, Martin said, but she added that she wasn’t sure if it will be able to.
SIU’s situation, however, is not as bad as that of its smaller sister publisher, Northern Illinois University Press, in DeKalb. In trying to deal with a $30 million budget shortfall, NIU implemented a campus-wide program prioritization process this spring, which determined that NIU Press is an “inessential” part of the university. A reprioritization report stated that since NIU Press, which publishes 20–25 titles each year and receives over 40% of its $750,000 budget from the university, is unlikely “to generate outside revenue and rely less on university resources,” it should be eliminated. No final decision has been made by administrators. According to Joe King, associate communications director at NIU, the press is being given an opportunity to make a case for why it should not be shut down.
The University Press of Kansas also faces financial questions. The state’s higher education system has been hit with budget cuts since Sam Brownback became governor in 2011 and promised lower taxes to its residents. Last month the state announced that it was cutting $30.7 million from the state’s higher education system for fiscal year 2017, with its flagship campus, the University of Kansas in Lawrence, losing more than $7 million. University Press of Kansas director Charles Myers declined to respond in detail to questions from PW asking what impact the budget cuts might have on the publisher. “It’s so uncertain right now,” he said. “I don’t think this is something I want to address at this time, as it would be pure speculation on my part.”
Since being elected governor of Wisconsin in 2010, Scott Walker has made repeated cuts to that state’s system of 13 universities; $250 million in cuts are included in the 2015–17 state budget. “It all trickles down,” University of Wisconsin Press director Dennis Lloyd admitted, disclosing that the state previously funded about 10% of the press’s $3.6 million budget, but cut that sum by 2% in 2015–17. “It could have been better; it could have been worse,” Lloyd observed. Though Lloyd speculated that there were “conversations at high levels regarding whether to keep the press,” he said that he has been reassured that the university is committed to UWP, which typically nets about $1.5 million in revenues from book sales; the press publishes 50 titles and 14 journals each year. In order to strategize more effectively on generating revenues and cutting expenses, UWP recently added a business manager to its 21-person staff.
The North Carolina legislature has cut $64.4 million from its 17-campus university system in its 2016–2017 budget, on top of approximately $500 million in cuts to the UNC system since 2010. But John Scherer, director of the University of North Carolina Press, said the latest round of cuts have had only “an indirect effect” on the press, which has received a $440,000 subsidy from the state for the past 20 years. “It never has gone up when times are good, and it hasn’t gone down when times are bad,” Scherer noted. UNC Press publishes more than 100 titles and nine journals each year. University support accounts for about 5% of its $8 million budget. If anything is a detriment to the press’s finances, Scherer explained, it’s cuts in academic library budgets resulting in fewer purchases.
“We’re the press for the UNC system,” Scherer said. “The clarity of our role as a system press helps our existence.” The subsidy, Scherer said, is a tool that allows the press to “do innovative things,” including providing fulfillment and other publishing services for nine other presses under its Longleaf Services division. In fact, $2 million of it annual $8 million in revenue comes from Longleaf. “Overall, we feel well taken care of,” Scherer said. “The university press is where a university meets the public. This press has endeared itself to the region. We’re seen as spreading the word of what’s happening at UNC.”
The idea that a university press can build bridges between an institution of higher education and the public was just one reason the University of Cincinnati, in Ohio, announced last week that it is going to launch an academic press. The University of Cincinnati Press is intended to pursue, university officials stated in a release, “a dual publishing focus on social justice and community engagement” and to “cultivate and disseminate scholarly works of the highest quality for the enhancement of the global community.” The press will be a part of the UC Libraries system, which is engaged in a nationwide search for a director to begin the process of hiring employees and acquiring manuscripts.
According to John McNay, chair of UC’s department of history, philosophy, and political science, and a member of the task force that recommended that UC launch the press, there were a number of factors influencing the committee’s decision. When it came down to it, however, was the idea that a university press builds and strengthens relationships beyond the campus. “Our committee was impressed by the support that was expressed by both the faculty and the public at Missouri and Akron,” McNay said, referring to those two university administrations that rescinded decisions to shut down their presses. “There was nationwide concern about the fate of those presses. I think the UC community looks forward to creating a press that people—both in academia and the public—will care just as much about and that is also a valuable part of our academic mission.”