Among the sweeping financial cuts the University of Akron announced last week were all three full-time positions at the University of Akron Press, a small regional imprint primarily known for its poetry series and books on local culture and history. In the wake of its closure, its director has decried the move. National organizations have called the cut "short-sighted" and fans have mobilized online to save it. Scene spoke with 15-year UA Press employee Amy Freels about the merits of a university press and what exactly's going on down in Akron.
So you were an employee of the press for a pretty long time.
I was there for 15 years, yes. I was the editorial and design coordinator, which means it was my job basically to see the book from the manuscript stage to the finished product. I did a lot of the copy-editing personally, and did the cover design and interior design and layout for all our books either myself or by overseeing our student staff.
How many books did the press publish per year?
It depends. We do about 10 to 15, but we also do reprints and a couple of journals.
I gather it's primarily Ohio history and culture books?
We also have a poetry series, which is two poetry books per year. But yes, we do Ohio history and culture. We also do a couple series that highlight departments at the university. We have an interdisciplinary series with the law school, a series with the psych archives and a series on politics. We really try to showcase different areas of the university.
You knew, of course, that there were serious budgetary conversations happening at the university. Did you have any inkling that the press might be on the chopping block?
No. We've all been really concerned about the layoffs. We knew that everything was in play, but we really hoped that we would survive. We had no idea what kind of cuts would be made. I think we all felt that we were at risk, but all felt and hoped that we could survive.
Did you have someone (a faculty member or otherwise) advocating on the press' behalf in discussions with the higher-ups?
I don't feel that way, but I'm not really sure what took place, so I can't really speak to that.
How were you notified that your job was being cut?
Was it like a staff-wide announcement?
The head of HR came over, and that was myself and my co-worker.
There were three full-time employees of the press?
Yes, we have three full time, and then we have our poetry series editor, Mary Biddinger, who's English faculty. We considered her .25, although it should be noted that she's under contract as series editor but doesn't receive much remuneration for her work at the press.
The university has stated that the press may be subsumed in library operations. Have you gotten any clearer word on that?
I really can't comment on that. I'm not sure what's going on.
The American Association of University Presses has said that a university press really doesn't exist if there's no staff. Is it even feasible to have the press as a branch of the library without a devoted staff?
It's my hope that the press will live on in some way. We have several books in the pipeline that really do deserve to see the light of day. And my heart goes out to our authors, but I don't know what new form this new press may take. We were under the library before. When the press was originally founded back in the '80s, it was under the office of the provost, and then it was moved under the library, and we were moved out from the library and back under the provost in 2005. But we were actually physically located in the library until 2010.
You've had a great deal of support from other university presses and authors expressing their dismay online. A Facebook group to "Save the Press" has even sprouted up. Do you think that support could yield any results?
I don't know. I've been tremendously grateful for the outpouring of support we've received and I'd like to think it'll make a difference, but I really don't know. It's nice to know that your work is appreciated and books that you've produced mean something to people.
There were other cuts as well, something like 200 positions.
There were 215, 216 jobs cut. Of those, 161 positions were actually filled. Some of the eliminated positions, people had already left the university or retired. So 161 people were actually let go.
Any other offices that were cut outright? I know the multicultural center was also pretty much destroyed.
There have been several. The Institute for Teaching and Learning was closed. Student services had around 54 positions that were cut.
So help me put the press loss in context. It's only three jobs, and it's pretty much self-sustaining, isn't it?
Well, to some extent. The university pays our salaries and benefits [about $200,000, all told] and provides a very small amount for things like offices supplies. But the money for printing and producing and marketing the books comes from sales of the books. So we didn't have a huge budget, we didn't cost the university a lot of money, and I like to think that we gave them a lot in return.
Like what? Your supporters have said that cutting a university press is short-sighted. What do they mean by that?
One thing is that we've provided so many jobs for students over the years, interns and graduate assistants. We've given them skills that have allowed them to get jobs after graduation. It does a lot for the students; they get actually career skills. I think that we also add to the brand of the University of Akron because of our reputation. Have you seen our book on the West Side Market?
I may have. I'm certainly familiar with your poetry series.
Well, we did a really nice book for the West Side Market's 100th anniversary. And people, when they hear the University of Akron Press, that may be the only connection they have to the university.
Do you think it's a trend, that universities view their presses as expendable?
I think it's just higher education in general. I think it's everybody. State funding is down and everybody has to agitate for a piece of the pie.