Last Thursday, I received an email from Bill Lavender looking for a job. I didn’t quite get it. I know Bill only tangentially, but I knew he ran UNO Press and the low-residency MFA creative writing program at UNO. I had sent out a query that morning to a spam list for a position open at Loyola, where I work, and he replied with his resume. Later that day, I was exchanging emails with a UNO employee who said she’d spent the day watching the English department be “dismantled. Fucked up beyond belief.”
Later, news seeped out that, indeed, Lavender had been fired due to “budget cuts” and the press will be on hiatus indefinitely. Students who worked with Lavender at the press found out about this when they showed up for their shifts and the doors were locked. Along with Lavender, sources I spoke with at UNO said that the English Department had also fired all of its adjuncts.
I remember talking a year or so ago to someone else, a friend, who works at UNO and has done projects with Lavender. He told me that it was a goddamned miracle that UNO even had a press, considering how broke the university was/is. It’s true, UNO is broke, and presses aren’t cheap.
Friends of Lavender have begun a petition calling on the UNO president and provost to reinstate him as director of the low-res MFA program and head of the press. I signed it, and I encourage you to, as well. But the economic realities of higher education and publishing make the situation look grim. It’s not a completely fair comparison, but the calls to reinstate Lavender remind one of the recent popular movement to “save” the Times-Picayune. If there’s one thing that debacle has taught us, it’s that, in the new economy, embattled companies are more than willing to sever some of their best limbs.