Budget cuts rock future of UI literary magazine


Bercham Kamber

Source: Office of the Provost

By Jessica Bursztynsky, Senior Reporter

University employees involved with the publication of Ninth Letter — the University’s literary magazine — are preparing for funding to be cut in the next budget cycle, leaving the journal’s future vulnerable.

Since 2008, funding for the publication has decreased by almost 61 percent, going from $127,000 to $50,000.

Ninth Letter, a collaboration between the School of Art + Design and the creative writing program, has operated since 2004, and its main source of funding is from the Office of the Provost.

Creative Writing department head Janice Harrington said Ninth Letter is essential to the operations of the department, as students use the journal almost as a “laboratory,” and it brings in national attention.

“If not to benefit our graduate students, who often come to Illinois because of the Ninth Letter, if not to retain our faculty of outstanding writers, then the University should support Ninth Letter because of the international attention it draws to our campus,” Harrington said in an email. “We’re a University that believes in and fosters excellence. The Ninth Letter is an award-winning, celebrated literary journal.”

Editor Jodee Stanley said funding has gradually decreased as the journal has been taking in more outside money. But it wasn’t until the latest funding cycle in 2017 that the Provost’s office said funding could soon be terminated.

From fiscal years 2008-2014, the Office of the Provost provided Ninth Letter $127,000 annually, according to numbers provided by Stanley. From 2015 through 2017, the office provided $75,000 annually. 

Funding for the 2019-2020 cycle was cut 33 percent from the last financial cycle in 2017-2018, bringing the amount from $75,000 to $50,000.  

The Office of the Provost has not decided whether it will continue its support for the publication. A total of $1.5 million in funding from the University has been given to the journal, said Vice Provost for Academic Affairs William Bernhard.

“We will revisit the issue of the Provost support for Ninth Letter at the end of the current three-year commitment,” Bernhard said in an email. “No decision on future funding has been taken; that decision will reflect circumstances at that time.”

Stanley fears it will lose funding from the Provost entirely in 2021 and is looking for outside sources for more permanent funding. She noted the Office of the Provost “has not definitively said they won’t offer support.”

“The Office of the Provost has indicated that after 2020, they may elect not to provide any future commitments to Ninth Letter, and has encouraged us to find other avenues of support,” Stanley said in a follow-up email.

While the publication is able to take in funds from advertising and selling print editions, Ninth Letter is not able to financially support itself entirely. Current funding from the Office of the Provost supports Stanley’s salary and some operating costs.

Ninth Letter brings in about $10,000 in sales revenue each year, Stanley said.

“We can’t reasonably bring in enough to cover personnel costs,” Stanley said. “We have, over the past 10 years, worked to reduce our operating costs while increasing our outside funding, but it’s not feasible to expect that Ninth Letter could continue to exist in its present form without some ongoing funding from the University.”

Stanley plans to greatly increase Ninth Letter’s fundraising presence and reach out to individual donors as well as the dean of the College of Fine + Applied Arts and the Engish Department.

If funding can’t be secured, Stanley said the publication will likely be student-run or increase its reliance on faculty, which would change the entire operation. Stanley currently manages the entire publication and would lose her part-time position.

The College of LAS and the College of FAA have been active supporters of Ninth Letter, Stanley said, and have been covering costs to fund graduate students’ work.

However, success of the magazine isn’t the only factor in funding.

“The Office of the Provost does not have the resources to provide support for every journal or project, even if they are excellent,” Bernhard said. “Thus, over the past few years, the Office has tried to make only temporary commitments that are designed to help projects get started and give them enough time to identify alternative funding sources.”

Eric Benson, head of the graphic design department, works with Stanley to both raise funds and brainstorm for the bi-yearly publication. This last semester, he said, University students won two international design awards for their work on Ninth Letter.

“There is nothing like Ninth Letter at any other University in the U.S.A. Nothing. It’s a gem that makes UIUC and our creative writing and graphic design programs unique,” Benson said in an email.

The department has a hands-on graphic design course dedicated to putting together Ninth Letter, which Benson said is vital.

Despite recent budget cuts, several people have said Ninth Letter is operating at its normal level, and Stanley remains optimistic.

“I’m hopeful that, whether it comes from the Provost or from elsewhere in the University System, some level of funding will be granted to us in the long term, as I trust the University administration will recognize the value Ninth Letter provides to the students, the campus community and the national fields of literature, arts, and the humanities,” Stanley said.

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