At-Risk Assets: The Wesleyan University Press
In 1957, William Lockwood, a University alumnus, and Richard Bilber, a poet working in the English department, set in motion the creation of the Wesleyan University Press. Half a century later, the Press can be found on a list of programs currently being considered for elimination.
When the Press began, it filled a void in the literary world by providing an outlet for poetry publishing, which not many printing presses focused on at the time. Now, the Press is widely known as one of the best poetry publishers in the nation; it is also recognized for its books on ethnomusicology, film, and dance.
With the significant hit to the endowment that has come as a result of the current recession, however, the University has been forced to examine many undesirable avenues for budget savings. The minutes from the February Board of Trustees meeting list Wesleyan University Press as one of several programs under consideration to be cut.
According to Director of the Press Suzanna Tamminen, the Press receives a subsidy of $150,000 annually from the University. The Press staff has recently reviewed their operating budget and how their funds are being spent. This assessment yielded a smaller budget, as projected costs for next year will be reduced by 30 percent.
“We sat down and went through every line and said, ‘Is there anything we can do differently?’” said Director of the Press Suzanna Tamminen. “Hopefully it will ensure that we will live well within our subsidy.”
The Press has had a particularly successful year, with two titles that are in their third printing in five months. “The Old Leather Man,” a book that focuses on the history and culture of Connecticut, and “My Vocabulary Did This to Me,” a book of poems, have both received national publicity, including reviews in The New York Times.
Tamminen believes that several of the books being printed next year will also sell particularly well. In order to save money, however, the Press is delaying the release of four titles out of the 24 slated for print in 2010.
“It behooves all of us to do everything we can to be tightening our belts,” Tamminen said. “We’re all in the same boat and we all need to pull together.”
Ultimately, the Press would like to reach the point where they would require no subsidy from the University. In order to generate enough revenue to achieve this goal, however, they will have to publish more trade books, like “The Old Leather Man,” as opposed to academic books. While trade books generally generate more revenue than academic books, which sell a set number of copies, they also pose to be the riskier choice in terms of sales.
Overall, President Roth says that he hopes to avoid cutting funds for the Press.
“It’s a scary thing for me to contemplate that it’s on the list because if the economy tanks, then we’ve got some hard choices,” said President Michael Roth. “Right now we support the Press. I think Wesleyan should be proud of it.”
Though no one knows how the endowment will look in a few years or even a few months, none of the programs on the list from the February Board of Trustees meeting have been eliminated yet.
“In the process of reviewing our budget in light of the financial climate, we prepared a list of many alternatives one might consider if things continue to decline,” said Joe Bruno, Vice President for Academic Affairs. “We have made no determination on which ones we might pursue, or, indeed, the degree to which more budget cuts are required.”
Tamminen hopes that the Press’ recent successes, in addition to its budget cuts, will enable it to remain. She believes it plays an important role for the University, beyond employing eight students and providing a resource for those who hope to be involved in writing or publishing.
“The kind of visibility [the University] gets, especially when we get awards and reviews, sets us apart from Wesleyan’s peer group,” she said. “We hope that we are supporting the University’s mission.”