Open Letter on the Termination of Duquesne University Press

Duquesne University announced earlier this year that it will soon be closing Duquesne University Press after 90 years of operation.  In response, one of the members of the school’s philosophy department, Fred Evans, wrote an open letter to the Duquesne faculty.  With slight modifications, the Blog of the APA is publishing that letter to report on the significance of the Press’s closing for the philosophical field and as a comment on the status of the humanities.

Dear Colleagues,

Most of us are aware of the reports regarding the $40 million being used to renovate the Duquesne Palumbo Sports Center.  And many of us attended the April 7th joint address by the President and the Provost to the faculty of the College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts.  At that address, one of our faculty colleagues made an elegant plea for more extensive forums in which to discuss Duquesne issues with the President, Provost, and other administration officials (I would add the Board of Directors to that list).  I too believe such forums would be helpful for constructing university policy.  I want to use this letter to raise publicly with the President an issue that we were not able to discuss adequately during the short time left over for Q&A at the April 7th meeting:  the termination of Duquesne University Press (DUP).

I will assume that most of us are in agreement with the importance of DUP to the academic status of the University:  that has been attested to by many faculty, staff members, and students at Duquesne, a torrent of letters from scholars and academic associations outside of Duquesne, and letters and editorial comment in the Post-Gazette and other public media.  I will also assume that we agree that the most important or at least one of the most worthy aims of a university (be it religious or secular) is the production and dissemination of knowledge, and that this is the central purpose of DUP.  I do not think President Gormley would disagree with these assumptions.  He has emphasized instead only that DUP requires a financial subsidy that he and some other administrators feel is no longer realistic in light of Duquesne’s current economic situation.

In trying to come to my own assessment of the fairness of the administration’s decision on DUP, I wondered if there were other entities within the University that are receiving subsidies (monies that go beyond what they bring in directly through their own efforts).  If there are such entities, should the administration have made some cuts in their subsidies rather than eliminating DUP in its entirety?  The question is pertinent not only for economic reasons but also with respect to the core university purpose mentioned above: the production and dissemination of knowledge.  The DUP clearly serves this purpose; do the other subsidized entities? I could not find any information on the Duquesne website concerning subsidies or related matters that might have helped me to answer these two questions.  I ask, then, that the President or other administration officials help us understand the decision to terminate DUP by replying publicly to the two questions I have just presented.  If the decision concerning DUP was made relative to the value and economic specifics of other subsidized entities, I would ask a third question, this one related to governance: were faculty knowledgeable about these entities asked to participate on committees assessing which of them should have their subsidies trimmed or terminated and which not?

Part of the reason for raising my question concerns the situation of intercollegiate sports teams at Duquesne.  Unlike the DUP, they do not seem to be directly related to the universities core purpose of producing and disseminating knowledge.  Also, national and local studies exist arguing that many intercollegiate sport teams cost more than the profits they bring in through ticket sales, donations, and alumni contributions (for a recent one, see the Huffington Post and Chronical of Higher Education).  If our teams do receive subsidies from the university, has the university conducted any cost-benefit analyses that would help determine if their subsidies should be reduced or their programs eliminated?  Several other related questions concern student mandatory funds and university fund raisers.  Do student mandatory funds (assuming that there are such) support the teams but not DUP?  Do fund raisers paid by the university (this includes the President) seek funds for the teams or other University institutions but not for DUP?  If these fund raisers do seek funds for the teams or other university entities attractive to donors, does the university designate that a certain percentage of the raised funds will be used to help mission-pertinent university institutions such as DUP?

My questions are not intended to be prosecutorial.  They are meant to be part of a collaboration on issues of importance between faculty, students, and administrative staff.  They are also meant temporarily to supplement the forums for which my colleague called, to the prolonged applause of those assembled that April afternoon.  To his credit, President Gormley has stated his desire for more public discussion among us and has already initiated one successful campus-wide forum prior to the April meeting.  My request for public replies to the above questions is made in the same spirit.

Fred Evans
Dept. of Philosophy
Coordinator, Center for Interpretive and Qualitative Research
Duquesne University
600 Forbes Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15282

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