the minnesota review may leave Carnegie Mellon due to lack of funding

A tiny room in the English department, Baker Hall 245N , is the home of the minnesota review, one of the most well-regarded journals in the field of literary and cultural studies. However, the journal will likely leave Carnegie Mellon after 2009 or cease publication all together due to a bitter battle over funding between the editor and Carnegie Mellon professor Jeffrey Williams and English department head David Kaufer.

the minnesota review, published twice a year, contains avant-garde fiction and poetry alongside literary criticism and interviews with leading scholars in the field. Modern Languages Association President Gerald Graff said of the journal, “It’s ‘cutting edge’ and really essential for keeping me au courant with the best current thinking in literary and cultural theory.”

The fight over funding for the minnesota review has inspired a debate over how the humanities are viewed at Carnegie Mellon. The story led Marc Bousquet, a professor of cultural studies at Santa Clara University, to write a Chronicle of Higher Education blog headlined, “Carnegie Mellon stiffs the humanities.”

Bousquet wrote, “But now the quality trolls at Carnegie Mellon ... threatens the survival of this humanities institution [*the minnesota review*] with the ceaseless renewal of the doltish mantra to ‘do more with less.’ ”

Editor of the minnesota review since 1992, Williams was recruited by Carnegie Mellon to teach in the English department and came here in 2004, bringing the journal along with him. He was given two years’ funding for the journal, which consisted of two graduate assistants, a month of summer salary for Williams, and money for travel and office supplies. Williams also receives a course release, meaning he works on the journal instead of teaching a course. The journal, while not particularly profitable, paid for its printing and other costs through the subscription fee, although Williams often put his own money into the publication.

From the beginning, Kaufer made it clear to Williams that the funding was only for two years and he should look for outside funding. When Kaufer gave Williams one year’s notice in spring 2005 about the funding cuts, Williams responded by gathering letters of support from prestigious academics. Kaufer extended the funding for another two years, trying unsuccessfully to cut one graduate assistant.

Bousquet, it should be noted, was one of Williams’ supporters when the first funding debacle occurred in 2005.

While Williams won that round and preserved his funding, the end of the spring 2008 semester brought a new round of negotiations on funding the minnesota review. Kaufer is cutting Williams’ month of summer salary, although the two graduate students’ jobs are safe.

Williams still also has his course release. “He’s getting a course off. Twenty-five percent of is teaching load it taken off from this.”

“And when I said [in spring 2008, after granting Williams a two-year extension on his original contract] we can’t continue to afford it, he went to the dean,” Kaufer said. “… and the dean’s conclusion was, ‘Well, Jeff, you know the head has not only honored your agreement of two years, but he’s given you two more years. What more do you want?’ ”

While Kaufer thinks that is enough for the minnesota review to continue operating, Williams disagrees and will move or shut down the journal.

The attempts in 2005 and last spring to cut the journal’s funding came as a surprise to Williams, who wrote in an e-mail to the faculty in literary and cultural studies, “I can definitely say that I would not have agreed to bring the journal here had I known that support would be cut.”

Kaufer finds Williams’ incredulity at the funding cuts surprising.

“He’s reported being upset about hearing that, but I honestly can’t tell you why he would be upset about hearing that,” Kaufer said. “I sometimes even wonder if I understand what the issue is, to tell you the honest truth. I actually thought, when Jeff and I were negotiating, I made very clear we could not fund this indefinitely. Believe me, why would I have written two years?”

Kaufer supports the journal even as he is cutting some of the funding for it. He feels it provides graduate students good editing experience. However, Kaufer objects to the journal’s hogging of the English department’s funds.

“If we were to continue to fund it indefinitely, it would be, on the current funding level, something like one-sixth of our entire reserves for the department,” Kaufer said. “We have 28 faculty members, we have 70-odd grad students. We have 180 majors.”

Kaufer, who will step down as head in June 2009, would rather use the money saved from the cuts to fund projects beneficial to the whole department.

“The same money that we pay for the minnesota review could go into giving more money to scholarship money to our master’s students who are in desperate need of scholarship money. It’s the same pot of money,” Kaufer said.

Kaufer encouraged Williams to look for support outside the university for the minnesota review.

Williams doesn’t feel he should have to look for outside funding. “I’m sure Kaufer’s going to tell you that, ‘He didn’t find outside funding,’ but the logic of that, should every faculty member find funding for their own job?”

When Williams sent his e-mail about the funding cuts to faculty in the English department, 14 of the Ph.D. students in the literary and cultural studies program rose in support of Williams. In a May 14 letter to Kaufer and the dean of H&SS, they wrote, “As future members of a profession that sees constant cuts in funding and the continuing devaluation of the humanities, we support the right of academic workers to be adequately compensated for their labor, whether it be teaching, research, administrative, service, or editorial work.”

Many wealthy universities like Harvard University can afford to shower faculty with money, but Carnegie Mellon does not have the endowment to do so.

“CMU is notorious for expecting its faculty members to go outside,” Kaufer said. “Faculty members across this university go out and drum up support for one month of summer salary.”

Williams was unprepared for the university’s find-your-own-funding culture. “Perhaps I was naïve,” he said. “It’s not like the humanities are so thriving here.”

Kaufer disagrees, saying, “I think the humanities are thriving at Carnegie Mellon as never before. The university is putting in a great deal of its money to endow the Humanities Center, so it’s not like the university is scrimping on support for the humanities.”

The Humanities Center is part of an initiative to develop the humanities at Carnegie Mellon. Kaufer had suggested that Williams make the minnesota review part of the initiative, that it could be funded permanently that way, and at the same time have a more direct impact on Carnegie Mellon. While the journal is highly regarded by those in the field, it is virtually unknown at Carnegie Mellon.

“The university is coming up with strategic initiatives for the humanities. the minnesota review isn’t even on the radar screen, in part because Jeff has not made it a priority to make it well known,” Kaufer said. “Lest that seem a criticism, he associates that with changing or compromising the editorial direction.

“There’s kind of a rock and a hard place when he wants the English department to somehow come up with the money so that he can preserve his editorial vision.”

Williams was wary of having to give up editorial control in accepting outside funding; in the e-mail to English department faculty, Williams shot down Kaufer and the H&SS dean’s efforts to alter the journal by having more Carnegie Mellon professors write or installing an advisory board of professors.

He feels that it is the role of universities to support ideas without trying to control those ideas.

“We’re here to produce knowledge, and knowledge sometimes doesn’t immediately pay back or doesn’t pay back at all,” Williams said. “But we’re here for the interest of knowledge. We’re interested in humanistic knowledge, especially. It might be somewhat idealistic, but that’s what universities are for. That’s why they’re non-profits.”