Economic Downturn Hits Literary Journals

The economic trickle down has started to affect an area of publishing where monies are usually scarce to begin with: The Literary Journal.

Inside Higher Ed announced that Middlebury College is demanding that the New England Review become financially independent. Jacket Copy covers the story, and at the VQR blog, Ted Genoways argues for the necessity of The Southern Review, which is also facing cuts.

While all this hue and cry for the New England Review and The Southern Review is necessary and admirable, I wonder if it accomplishes anything.

The wave of publicity criticizing the slashing of book reviews did nothing to stop a dozen-odd newspapers from downsizing their book review sections. And I doubt that the new Chancellor who wants to cut The Southern Review will be swayed either, because his eyes are on two things:

  • The Current Fiscal Crisis
  • A belief that “we must protect the academic core of LSU first and foremost,” with the insinuation that “The Southern Review” does not belong to this academic core.

The problem with the former is that this is such a shortsighted view. Of course it’s budget crunch time, but with a deadline of 2011 for the New England Review to sever financial ties with the university, the recession might well be over, and the economy on an upswing.

The problem with the latter is that it’s wrong. Not only wrong — because even a dunce could see and add up the tangible contribution the The Southern Review has made to the academic core — but also selfish. Middlebury promotes its professors from Assistant to Associate to Professor to Full Professor on the basis of peer-reviewed publications, and right now they are abdicating their responsibility to put out this particular peer-review publication while still insisting that professors publish elsewhere. As R.T. Smith, editor of Shenandoah, said:

“A really important equation to consider here is that universities expect their faculty to publish in magazines like The New England Review and Shenandoah. For a college to say that we are shutting ours down, while hoping our faculty keep publishing in everyone else’s is a bit of waffling on one’s sense of community. If you are teaching writing, you need literary magazines.”

In other words, they’re relying upon the generosity of other universities to uphold the institutional framework.

But local news — The Advocate/WBRZ News in Louisiana — tells a different story. These threatened budget cuts might be a way to force the legislature not to reduce funding.

At least, as the Higher Ed article points out, there’s been at least one recent success in recent memory. In 2003, when Washington and Lee University threatened to slash and burn Shenandoah, the university halted when confronted with strong public outrage.

Stoke the outrage, readers.

Share exactly what you think about Middlebury’s treatment of the New England Review at this Middlebury Comment Box about the budget crisis.

Or send a quick email to LSU’s Public Relations Office, asking them to preserve The Southern Review: urelat1@lsu.edu

I’m sure they would appreciate a brief note expressing distaste for their actions, and an ardent plea to recognize the important work these journals have done in providing a home for literature.

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