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The idea for The Gettysburg Review was first dreamed up by a coalition of faculty members from several departments who were looking for a way to put the college on the cultural map. In its early days the magazine was well supported by Gettysburg College: At its height in the mid-'90s there were five permanent staff members. When Stitt retired in 2016, however, that support began to erode. According to Mark Drew, who started as an assistant editor in 1998 before succeeding Stitt as editor, “They’ve been killing us with paper cuts for a while now,” reducing the magazine’s budget and staff. By this fall, the staff was down to two: Drew and Managing Editor Lauren Hohle, who joined in 2019. Stitt, who died in 2018, had been a tenured professor in the English department, but Drew and Hohle (like other past Gettysburg Review employees) were classed as administrators, with their employment under the discretion of the provost’s office.
I interviewed Drew and Hohle via Zoom. Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Can you describe the events leading up to your learning of the closing of the magazine?
Mark Drew: We had scheduled a meeting with the new provost, Jamila Bookwala, when she first came on, which was in July of 2023. There was a meeting scheduled maybe three times, and then canceled three times. And then nothing for a while. Finally, on September 29, we were able to meet with her. I wasn’t sure whether it would just be that rescheduled meet-and-greet from July, or if it was something we should be worried about. Because in the preceding weeks, they had told all the adjunct instructors that they would no longer have classes at the college. So, there were definitely cuts being made. We were trying to be patient and get our work done, because it’s just the two of us running this magazine. But in the back of my mind there was this worry.
We went to the provost’s office. We sat down, and she closed the door. The first thing that she said was: “I have some sad news. This wasn’t my decision, but we are closing down The Gettysburg Review.” So it was delivered to us as a fait accompli. The decision had been made.
The President, Bob Iuliano, wasn’t even there. He sent his hatchet person to do this work. There was no attempt to have a conversation with us. There were clearly conversations at a higher administration level about us. I don’t know whether any of those conversations included the idea of giving us time to try to find alternate sources of funding, to try to find somebody who would help to underwrite or endow the Review, to defray some of the costs. The excuses for closing down the magazine that were presented to us were ridiculous and erroneous.
One of the administration’s main arguments was that the Review doesn’t publish work by Gettysburg students.
Lauren Hohle: Yes, the provost told us, because you don’t publish students and faculty, we have decided to discontinue the Review. And I interrupted her to say: This is not a yearbook. It was clear to me she didn’t really understand what a literary magazine was.
Drew: She demonstrated a complete lack of understanding of the historical mission of this publication. And this despite the fact that I was tasked by the president back in the summer with putting together an introductory packet for her that would explain the idea behind the Review from the beginning, its accomplishments, our contributions to this campus and the community. I put all that together, and gave her this wonderful article that was written back in 1988 about the origins of the magazine. In that meeting, it was so obvious that she had no idea what we were all about, and what we offered the college. It was, frankly, humiliating.
The excuses for closing down the magazine that were presented to us were ridiculous and erroneous.
Hohle: She kept reiterating that The Gettysburg Review was too outward facing. But she didn’t really have any knowledge of what we bring to the campus. We run an internship program, which Gettysburg students get course credit for. We organize a reading series, in conjunction with the English department. We’ve met with other courses on campus over the years.
I think it demonstrates bad faith. Everyone’s had to kind of make cuts and do more with less because of Covid. We lost a staff member that we weren’t able to replace. We transitioned from a quarterly to a triannual, which reduced our printing costs. And we’re doing all this while teaching students every semester, and still winning prizes.
The college sets an amount of money we need to make each year from sales, which is $30,000. And even when we went down from quarterly to triannual, we met that goal. We exceeded it.
Drew: Ever since I took over as an editor, we’ve exceeded our revenue expectation, even as that revenue expectation has increased.
In an article for The Gettysburgian, the Gettysburg student (and former Gettysburg Review intern) Laken Franchetti quotes President Robert Iuliano as saying, “The fundamental mission of The Gettysburg Review was an external mission. The fundamental objective we’re trying to serve here is a student-based mission.”
Hohle: The reasons for having a magazine don’t necessarily have to be the same thing as the mission of the magazine. The mission statement on our website, which is a few sentences long, doesn’t have to encompass all the reasons Gettysburg might want to support us. You can have the magazine for the internship program, for what we contribute in bringing creative-writing students and English students to Gettysburg. So I don’t know why he’s drawing that distinction.
Drew: When Peter Stitt first came to Gettysburg to establish the Review, there was no creative writing at the college. The Gettysburg Review brought creative writing to the English department; it brought students to Gettysburg who wanted to study creative writing. And then when those students were interested in learning about publishing, Peter created an internship program, and that program has grown. It has influenced student experience and made people aware of Gettysburg College as a vibrant place.
Hohle: Admissions doesn’t seem to be really using The Gettysburg Review as a recruiting tool, which seems really short-sighted, a wasted opportunity. We have a faculty member here whose daughter goes to Kenyon, and when she did her campus visit she said she was interested in creative writing. They were immediately like, “Oh, here’s The Kenyon Review.” Why can’t they do that here? The admissions office basically told us, “We can’t know everything that goes on.” I can’t think of many programs at this college that are nationally renowned, the way The Gettysburg Review is.
Drew: The puzzling thing to me is that none of this stuff seems to have been part of their conversation, or part of their calculus. I find that bizarre, and a little bit insidious, because I wonder what it means for the rest of the humanities at Gettysburg? When you take a thing like The Gettysburg Review away, it certainly hurts the English department, but it also damages the humanities as a whole. All that’s going to result from this decision is that the reputation of the college is going to be besmirched. This is what’s going to be talked about in the wider literary world, and beyond.
According to The Gettysburg Review’s account on the social-media platform X, the college has been using outside consultants, Kennedy & Company, to advise on budget decisions.
Hohle: That’s another piece of this puzzle. It’s not the same consulting firm that West Virginia U. is using, but it seems like a familiar playbook to me, because they’re recommending cuts to the humanities, cuts to the library, in the name of “academic transformation.” It feels familiar. It’s also hard not to see it as a form of disaster capitalism. These consulting companies are coming in after Covid and cutting things, and making a check from it.
Do you know if Kennedy & Company was involved specifically in the decision to close The Gettysburg Review?
Drew: No, we don’t know for sure. That’s just a suspicion. But certainly, they are informing the president’s decision-making processes; they have been involved on this campus ever since he took over. They’ve held various campuswide meetings at which representatives of the company talk about the future of Gettysburg College. There are these efficiency experts trying to prepare us all for the inevitable cuts that were coming but trying to make us feel good about it at the same time.
I know the faculty are concerned. My wife is a professor in the physics department here. Cuts are probably coming for all departments, not just the humanities.
Can you tell me a little more about the magazine’s internship program?
Drew: It’s part of the English department’s regular offerings here, the Gettysburg Review internship. It’s 160 hours, students get a course credit for it, they get graded, they have to produce a paper.
First I would introduce them to the editorial side. They would start by reading back issues of the magazine. Many of them had taken creative-writing workshops, and I would give them raw manuscripts and we would compare them with the stuff that the Review had published. We would think about aesthetics. I would ask, if there is a thing called “the Gettysburg Review story,” what are its characteristics? So we were doing a lot of critical thinking. They were writing critical reviews of material with an editor’s mind, as opposed to a workshop mind.
And then they would transition over to the managing editor, who would take them through sundry aspects of the production process. They would learn copy-editing. They would help out with marketing. We would have them do campuswide marketing stuff: They would come up with ideas for selling the magazine or introducing the campus community to this publication. They would help us out with social media.
It’s a lot of work, for us as well as them. I always say to anybody who asks about the internship program: Interns don’t really help us make the magazine, but we love having them, because this is how we give back to this institution that funds us so well. And I love working with the student interns. When you get bogged down in the work, to have these conversations with students, to whom all of this is totally new — it’s so refreshing. To hear their takes, to learn more about their tastes, and see how their tastes change.
It’s “hard not to see it as a form of disaster capitalism. These consulting companies are coming in after Covid and cutting things, and making a check from it.”
Many of our interns have gone on to careers in the arts or in publishing. Emily Francisco is a curatorial associate at the National Gallery of Art. Katie Bolger works for W.W. Norton. Susanna Mills is the editor of the American Philatelic Society’s official publication, and she’s also trying to do a little literary magazine herself.
Do you have any prognostications about the future of literary magazines in America? Do you see things moving away from this kind of college-sponsored model that’s been in place since the mid-20th century, with The Kenyon Review and so on?
Drew: I don’t know; ‘twas ever thus, to some extent, with changing college administrations affecting the fate of literary magazines. I mean, Kenyon College closed down The Kenyon Review for a decade at the end of the sixties, before starting it back up again in 1979.
I’ve been puzzled over the years about why institutions don’t embrace these things. I think Kenyon learned that lesson: Today, they fully embrace their Review. They realize the value of it. There are other examples. The Southern Review, which is affiliated with Louisiana State University, is still around. Middlebury College is still publishing the New England Review. The Georgia Review, which is attached to the University of Georgia, has been around for a very long time, as is The Sewanee Review, which is affiliated with the University of the South. There is a deep tradition here.
What can still be done to save the Review?
Drew: Continuing to reach out to the president and provost probably still has some value; that might help to change our future. But honestly, short of an angel donor coming in and offering a sizable amount of money to start an endowment for us, I don’t know. I’d like to say I’m optimistic. We’ve been getting many, many letters of support, but I’ve been on the ground for all of this president’s tenure here. And my morale is not high.
Even if somebody buys it, the Review itself, and its relationship to the institution of Gettysburg College, would change. And I think that would be a shame. The ideal fix, to my mind, is for the magazine to be endowed, either wholly or in part, so that we’re protected from the vicissitudes of changing administrations. Then we can continue to work and develop our broader programming with the English department and continue to play a mentorship role with Gettysburg students who are interested in literature and publishing and the arts.
To be honest with you, from an annual-budget standpoint, it’s not like The Gettysburg Review costs a ton of money. But they don’t want to pay us for the work we do. We work hard here. We’re professionals. But we work in the arts, and the administration of Gettysburg College doesn’t seem to think that’s a worthwhile thing.