Fighting for the right to publish

Shortly before the holidays, Ooligan Press Director Dennis Stovall announced that he would retire in December 2011, 10 years after he founded the graduate program in publishing.

Shortly before the holidays, Ooligan Press Director Dennis Stovall announced that he would retire in December 2011, 10 years after he founded the graduate program in publishing. Since the announcement, the future of the program has been mired in uncertainty, as university officials announced no plans to hire a replacement.

Graduate Assistant Alyson Hoffman was frank in her assessment of the effect that such inaction may have.

“It’s a good way to slowly kill the publishing program at PSU,” Hoffman said. “We were told they [the university] need to save money, and we understand that, but they seem to be trying to save an inordinate amount of it through us.”

PSU Director of Communications Scott Gallagher said that a transitional committee was recently appointed to examine the situation.

“There has been no decision so far not to replace Dennis,” Gallagher said. “So far it has been a reexamination of what can be done to continue the program. Maybe that means replacing Dennis, maybe it means having greater involvement from others in the English Department.”

Ooligan Press is a university publishing house that prepares students in the publishing program of PSU’s Department of English for careers in the book publishing industry by immersing them in it. With students controlling every aspect of production—from editing and design to printing and marketing—Ooligan has released 25 titles and independently raised $105,000 for the program.

On April 22 Ooligan will release “Rethinking Paper & Ink,” a critical examination of avenues for sustainability in the publishing industry. It will be the second Ooligan publication of the academic year, an undertaking that it achieved with a student to full-time faculty ratio of 60:1. If the university does not hire a director to replace Dennis Stovall, that ratio will drop to 120:1. The Masters in Fine Arts program in the English department has a student to full-time faculty ratio of 7:1, according to Hoffman.

“We bring in 36 percent of the credit hours in the English department,” Hoffman said. “That’s about $1.2 million in tuition generated by a program that costs around $260,000 to run.

Aside from that, no other program in the English department has ever independently raised the kind of money that we have.”

The respect that Ooligan Press commands from peers in the academic and literary community became evident over winter term, when students concerned about the program’s future initiated a letter-writing campaign. The Oregonian, Shelf Awareness and Publishers Weekly, among others, have all written in support of saving Ooligan Press and the PSU graduate publishing program.

The campaign got the attention of PSU President Wim Wiewel and Interim College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Dean Dick Knight, and prompted English Department Chair Jennifer Ruth to issue a statement announcing that the closing of neither the press nor the program were options being considered.

Ruth did not respond to requests for comment, but Gallagher said that the outpouring of support, much of which was critical of the administration, is something the university is proud to endure.

“One thing is very clear, and it’s something we’re very happy about,” Gallagher said. “It’s the pride that students show in this program. It’s one thing to see students succeed in their endeavors, but to see them take such pride and ownership in Ooligan is something we think is great.”

Hoffman said that the letter-writing campaign was the only means of dialogue available to Ooligan students shut out of committee meetings that will decide the fate of their program.

“We’re trying to be a business and students, and at the same time deal with all of these other things,” Hoffman said. “We’ve had professors offer to step in and be the interim director to help us get by, but instead we’re left with a committee that meets behind closed doors.”

According to Ruth, the transitional committee may remain in place until fall of 2011 before making its recommendations for the future of the program.

Hoffman said that Ooligan is a model of the best that PSU has to offer, and shouldn’t be in such a precarious situation.

“If you read PSU’s mission statement, Ooligan fits it perfectly,” she said. “We’re student-run, we go out and work in the community and we promote sustainability. PSU should be proud of us, and they should be embarrassed that they would even consider leaving us with only one faculty for our 120 students.” ?