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Amid budget cuts, Critical Review loses print edition

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Following a significant cut in funding from the Undergraduate Finance Board, the Critical Review will no longer be published in paper form. The move, UFB members say, will more equitably distribute funds to all campus publications, but staffers of the Critical Review argue that the funding cut may put an end to the publication’s 31-year run.

The Finance Board gave the Critical Review a budget of $1,090 for the fall semester and the same amount for the spring “to maintain their Web site and continue to print paper questionnaires,” UFB Chair Ryan Mott ’09 wrote in an e-mail to The Herald. He wrote that UFB did not provide funding for the usual paper copies “because we saw the 1,000 copies as being an ineffective use of funds for the purpose of the group.”

UFB allocated $15,670 to the Critical Review in the 2006-2007 academic year, according to UFB’s Web site. UFB, which funds Category II and Category III student groups, has a total budget of approximately $850,000, Mott wrote.

The Critical Review has been facing progressively larger budget cuts for the last 15 years, said Ariana Cannavo ’08, an editor-in-chief of the Critical Review.

Mott said the budget cut decision was made in part because publishing costs for the Critical Review are high and in part because more – and, in particular, new – publications are requesting funds from UFB.

“It was never our mission to eliminate the Critical Review, but it was our belief that the $15,000 (yearly) could be put to better use in other publications,” Mott said.

“We have the same amount of money, increasing costs, increasing groups. It’s not like we’re holding onto money. All the money we have is allocated out,” he added.

UFB had received particular complaints about apparent instances of the Critical Review’s use of funding, ranging from unread stacks of the publication in the Faunce post office to the length of the class-assessment questionnaire, Mott said.

This move does not mean the Critical Review will die out, Mott said. “The Critical Review is unique … in that it has a Web site that, from talking to students, is used more than the magazine itself.”

But the editors of the Critical Review said that if the magazine is not printed, it will not continue to survive.

“It’s not possible for us to just stay online,” said Brian Lee ’09, Web editor for the Critical Review. He called the situation “dire.”

The Critical Review is most valuable in its paper form, said Dara Steinberg ’09, an editor-in-chief of the publication, adding that the Web site’s primary purpose is to allow searching for specific courses.

At this point, the biggest worry for the Critical Review is maintaining high visibility. The editors worry that after a few years without paper copies, the publication will be all but forgotten.

“Just because we’ve been around for 31 years doesn’t mean that if we get all funding cut, we’ll be able to survive,” Cannavo said. “I don’t want to say that we’re getting desperate, but we’re certainly looking at all options.”

Though the publication once had funding to print one copy for every undergraduate, cuts have meant that in recent years the Critical Review has been publishing fewer than half that number.

Mott explained that though the board had only been allotted $6,000 for printing in the fall of 2006, they had gone to press again in the spring without funding.

“It’s difficult to fully fund that publication when we receive direct complaints of its overproduction and inefficiency, when it costs over $15,000 a year to maintain and when the group itself is so disorganized that it buys $6,000 worth of printing without realizing that they have no money in their account,” Mott said in his e-mail.

“They said that they would fund us (for the spring), contingent on the fall supply,” Lee said. He explained that during his two years at the Critical Review, UFB had done the same thing – allocating the publication enough for its fall publication supply and making it appeal every spring after publishing.

“We have to appeal the same things every year,” Lee said. “They’ve been pretty consistently asking the same questions every year. They don’t like our distribution methods, but we tell them we give away all the copies.”

The group saves boxes of copies every spring for incoming freshmen. These extra copies are stored in the basement of Faunce House, and Lee believes claims of overproduction stem from these boxes of the publication.

Cannavo said that this year, Critical Reviews were not widely available to incoming freshmen. “We’re going to save all the copies from last year to show people and to recruit freshmen,” she said, adding, “We have about 75 copies left.”

“This should be a student resource funded by the UFB,” Cannavo said.

“If you think about all the money that goes into the UFB pot, and they distribute the budget to all groups, the Critical Review is really the only publication that serves the entire student body,” she said.

The Critical Review reviews 40 percent of classes, Cannavo said, adding that though the publication provides surveys for all classes to all departments, many departments either neglect to administer or to return the surveys.

“There are actually departments that use our survey as evaluations and just keep them after they’ve been filled out,” Steinberg said.

The Critical Review currently has a staff of 23 editors and writers, and as is the case at most campus publications, they are all unpaid. “It’s truthfully amazing to me how student-run it is,” Cannavo said. “It’s just us. And it’s worked for 31 years.”

(Disclosure: Herald Executive Editor Allison Kwong ’08 is a former editor-in-chief of the Critical Review.)

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