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University looks to cut costs at UNM Press

UNM President Bob Frank

UNM President Bob Frank

Copyright © 2016 Albuquerque Journal

In the latest attempt to stanch financial bleeding, University of New Mexico President Bob Frank is moving the money-losing UNM Press publishing house from the school’s academic branch to the administrative side.

The operation has a cumulative deficit of about $6.3 million, and it came up short by nearly half-million dollars in fiscal year 2016, according to a memo from Frank obtained by the Journal. The UNM Press staff said its average net annual sales from fiscal year 2012 to 2015 was about $2.2 million.

“In our current fiscal environment, we simply cannot allow this level of overspending to continue,” Frank said in the memo.

“The (UNM) Press continues to be a place we just haven’t been able to get our expenses under control,” he told the Journal in an interview Friday.

Earlier this year, the university cut an annual $250,000 subsidy to UNM Press as a cost-saving measure.

John Byram, director of the publishing house, said he felt it would be inappropriate to speak with the Journal before he spoke to his staff about the changes.

Staff members have argued that the operation was never meant to be self-supporting, according to an economic impact report of fiscal year 2015 to 2016. They also said that declining print sales and the “significant start-up costs” with digital distribution remain economic challenges. They said that, despite hard years, they still averaged net sales above $2 million annually, much of that from out-of-state buyers. Many of the books also highlight the state for readers and potential visitors, they said.

“The (UNM) Press participates in the public mission of the University of New Mexico through a publishing program that seeks to maintain the professional excellence of American university presses in general and to present the finest national and international scholarship in those academic areas in which we publish,” staff members wrote in the report.

Established in 1929, the operation published about 70 books last year in fields including Latin American and Chicano studies, American West culture and others. Arguably, its most famous work is Pulitzer-prize winning author N. Scott Momaday’s, “The Way to Rainy Mountain.”

During a special legislative session earlier this year, lawmakers slashed the university’s budget by 5 percent, about $15 million, as part of balancing an anemic state budget. To cut costs, UNM froze new hiring for staff on the main campus and the four branch campuses across the state. The university also slowed faculty hiring. And most recently regents approved an administrative reshuffling – which meant reduced salaries for a few – that will save the university about $450,000.

UNM Press will move from academic affairs, which is overseen by Provost Chaouki Abdallah, to the office of Institutional Support Services, which reports to executive vice president David Harris. Frank told the Journal the move should help UNM Press become financially solvent.

Administrator Melanie Sparks will oversee the publishing operation. Frank said she has had success in bringing the bookstore back from a $1 million deficit as well as increasing the percentage of students living on campus.

Frank said it was unclear if financial solvency requires layoffs or other cost-cutting measures.

“(UNM) Press isn’t going away,” Frank said. “It will still continue to publish books. We may not publish the 70 we did last year.”