Stop the Craziness and Save SMU Press

In Uncategorized on May 11, 2010 at 2:57 pm
Southern Methodist University

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It’s just kind of mind-boggling.

Last week, Southern Methodist University announced that they would be shutting down SMU Press, the oldest publishing house in Texas.

“It is with regret that we make the decision to suspend operations of the SMU Press, which has enjoyed a distinguished history of publishing,” Paul Ludden, the University’s provost and vice president for academic affairs said in a fairly disingenuous  statement.

The press, which has three employees and an annual budget of about $400,000, publishes about ten books a year.

There has been a bit of an uproar in protest.

There’s the expected Facebook page and famous writers speaking up.

“Closing SMU Press would be a disastrous decision,” wrote Ann Beattie.

“This a blow to the national literary community,” said John Dufresne.

It goes beyond that.

This is a decision that really goes to the heart of some of the greater problems facing the country, where we have our priorities. I’m not just talking about simple platitudes like housing not bombs or something.

SMU had enough money to successfully court the George W. Bush Presidential Library.

They’ve allowed their athletic department to lose more than $93 million over the past six years.

While SMU’s endowment fell about 25 percent last year to just more than $1 billion, they still have an endowment of JUST MORE THAN $1 BILLION!

They had enough money to pay their president more than $1 million, nearly three times the average salary of a university president.

SMU’s football coach, former football coach, basketball coach, provost, dean of the business school. athletic director were among the employees who had salaries greater than THE ENTIRE BUDGET of SMU Press.

I’m not saying fire any of these people.

But, think about this. If the football coach took a $200,000 pay cut — he would still make more than $1 million — and the basketball coach took a $150,000 pay cut — he would still make $400,000 — than there would only be a need to only come up with $50,000 to save the press.

OR —

The university could take $400,000 from their endowment and still have an endowment of more than $1 billion.

SMU, in its history has produced great literature, including some recent honorees.

I’ve argued before that we need to support small presses and literary magazines and I will do it until I am blue in the face.

In this world of IPads and Kindles and Nooks, we also need to look out for the traditional presses — especially the smaller ones — to help find the talent to create the “content” for people to read on their devices.

The message couldn’t be clearer:

SMU can’t be allowed to kill its press.

  1. Cutbacks at university presses all over the nation are no secret. Colin Miner presents an excellent case for the saving of Southern Methodist University Press. But time and space did not permit him to make the case for all the other university presses dead or withering.

    Let’s switch focus for a moment and play the role of a university president who has decided budget savings must come from somewhere. Of course, the president might say, book authors like Steve Weinberg and oft-published writers like Colin Miner would automatically defend university presses as a bastion of intellectual vigor. But Miner and Weinberg don’t understand the difficult decisions university presidents must make in tough economic times.

    Actually, I do understand. But I also understand that university presidents should not be thinking like CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, slicing the budgets of the “weakest” units. Instead, university presidents, by an standard of academia, should be championing the “weak” units that serve everybody who is on the campus. The university library should rank number one among those units, with the university press a close second. University presses not only spread learning, but also spread the campus name across the nation and world–sort of like the football team or basketball team.

    I could go on, telling you a sad saga about the demise of the formerly remarkable University of Missouri Press during the past two years. It’s not dead, but it is greatly diminished despite the intellectualism and long work weeks shared by those who survived the cutback.

    Come on, SMU president and university decisionmakers everywhere. Make decisions that favor true learning rather than the false idols of flashy buildings plus semi-professional football and basketball players. Not to mention major sport coaches paid far more than any professor.

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