Employees Revolt Over Layoffs at U. of New Mexico Press

March 31, 2009

Employees at the University of New Mexico Press learned yesterday that three of their colleagues would be let go at the end of April and that nine more positions — in order fulfillment and customer service — might soon be outsourced. That kind of news is all too common these days. More unusual is what happened next: This afternoon, the employees issued their own press release, alleging that the press’s director, Luther Wilson, was partly to blame for the situation. They also questioned whether outsourcing could solve the press’s financial woes.

“Despite months of budget-cutting and assurances from upper management that jobs were not in jeopardy, employees of UNM Press were left stunned yesterday by anouncements of layoffs and possible outsourcing of their jobs,” the statement begins. It goes on to cite “Mr. Wilson’s fiscally damaging acquisitions and misuse of press funds as one source of the press’s financial problems. Mr. Wilson has spent thousands of dollars so far this fiscal year on author lunches and just issued a $6,000 advance to a longtime friend for a children’s book proposal.”

The statement says that in December 2008, a group of press employees went to Wynn Goering, the university’s vice provost for academic affairs, and “expressed concerns about management decisions and the short- and long-term effects of those decisions on the press.”

Neither Mr. Wilson nor Mr. Goering responded to calls and e-mail messages from The Chronicle.

[Update (4/1): In an e-mail message to The Chronicle received Tuesday evening, Mr. Goering praised the press’s staff members as “a dedicated and talented group” and said that he understood their anger and took their suggestions seriously. But like many university presses, “UNM Press has been hard hit by the recession,” he said, with a projected operating deficit of $690,000 by June 30. “Given the magnitude of the problems, we simply didn’t see any way forward without restructuring the business model and reducing its work force.”]

Employees affected by the layoffs include Lisa Pacheco, an acquisitions editor, and Glenda Madden, sales and marketing manager. “Yesterday we were stunned, shocked,” Ms. Madden said in an interview with The Chronicle. “Today, it’s ‘We’re not going to take this lying down.’” She noted that those laid off are all women and include the press’s only Latina employee.

Clark Whitehorn, the press’s editor in chief, voiced strong opposition to outsourcing the customer-service side of the operation, saying there was no evidence to support the idea that it would put the press back in the black. The press has had a bad sales year, with a current deficit of perhaps a million dollars, Mr. Whitehorn estimated, and gets no subsidy from the university.

He made the case for the press’s importance to the local elementary- and secondary-school textbook market and to the regional presses and authors UNM Press distributes. Such functions are especially critical in a diverse but close-knit state like New Mexico, according to Mr. Whitehorn. “You sneeze, and half the state catches cold. That’s where the value of an academic press like UNM comes into play,” he said. —Jennifer Howard