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Hall Shakes Up the Management At the Harvard University Press And Moves On Toward Solvency

By Peter A. Landry

"A UNIVERSITY PRESS exists to publish as many good scholarly works as possible, short of bankruptcy."

For many years this philosophy was the underlying guideline for operations of the Harvard University Press. Credit for the ideal belongs to Thomas J. Wilson, director of the Harvard Press coincided with the Wilson, the unofficial guideline worked well--his years as head of the Harvard Press coincide with the "good-time" years of university presses throughout the country. Especially in the late 50's and early 60's, money was loose and the buying public made it possible for university based presses to flourish in America.

Since then, though, times have changed. The United States economy, once caught in ever-spiraling inflationary trends, sooner or later had to come back down. When it did, the resulting recession echoed with a deadening thud throughout the world of scholarly publications. With the tightening of the nation's money belts, university presses have not fared well.

The Harvard Press is no exception. Since the fiscal year of 1967-1968 the Press has been on shaky economic footing, and in the last two years the operating deficit has flirted dangerously with the half-million dollar mark. In 1970-1971, the deficit ran over $450,000; for 1971-1972 it is projected at over $375,000. When Derek C. Bok became Harvard's 25th President last July, he inherited a press which, despite being considered the exemplar of university presses in this country, was not on solid footing.

Bok, though he realized the important position that a university press holds in an academic community such as Harvard, must have thought that the operations of the Harvard Press were taking the bankruptcy slogan of the unofficial motto far too seriously. He did not want to continue losing inordinate amounts of money and quickly moved to take action against the deficit operations before they choked the Press in its own debt.

Since Bok's installation, a lot has happened to operations inside Press headquarters at 79 Garden Street, and the early indications are that things will never be quite the same for the Press at Harvard.

With the appointment of Stephen S. J. Hall as vice President for Administration, Bok put in motion the rejuvenation of the Harvard Press. Hall sports a Masters Degree in Business Administration and a businessman's love for a tight economic ship. He launched an extensive examination of the Press's operations, intent on fusing the principles of his lengthy career in business administration and hotel management with the academic pursuits of university press operations.

The Bok-Hall regime has brought many new ideas to the Press operations and has initiated widescale actions that have affected the Press on all levels. The biggest move of all, though, dropped like a bombshell last February when, to the surprise of a Harvard community unaccustomed to abrupt personnel changes. Bok dismissed Mark S. Carroll as director of Press operations. Carroll had been director since 1968; for most Harvard people (including Carroll himself) there had been little advance notice for the firing.

THE SUDDENNESS of the dismissal created a highly emotional atmosphere around Harvard as people reacted unfavorably to such an "un-Harvardian" action. Stories in the Harvard Bulletin and the New York Times claimed that Carroll had been victim of a heartless bureaucracy that was growing under the Bok Administration.

What these articles did not report, and, curiously enough, what the Admunustration did not make an effort to clear up, was the fact that, while Carroll himself had not been given any warning of the change prior to his dismissal on February 18, the dismissal was not a hasty action. The financial problems of the Press, and the director's relationship to them had been under close scrutiny for some time.

The Press's Board of Directors, which controls administrative operations, had been intimately involved in discussions with Bok and Hall about the problems of the Press and about Carroll's fate. In fact, the Board was fundamental in the investigation of the Press's economic problems--the investigation which ultimately led to Carroll's downfall.

According to Bok, the decision that Carroll was to be dismissed was debated in full by the Board of Directors. However, at no time prior to Carroll's dismissal was the Board of Syndics--the editorial arm of the Press--consulted as a body about the decision. Instead, the directors did a considerable amount of informal checking to gather opinions on the operations of the Press in general and on Carroll's management in particular. The Syndics were consulted only through the informal polling procedures undertaken by the Board of Directors.

The Syndics were not the only people informally polled. Faculty members in the Harvard community, as well as officials of other university presses around the country, were asked their opinions on Harvard's press and its operations. What this revealed was, according to Hall, an overall attitude that the Press was in a "holding position"--just holding on financially. The communication with other university presses in the country showed that, while Harvard's press was still considered the standard by which to measure university presses in the U.S., it was also, with a deficit of nearly a half million dollars, the largest losing press in the country.

The Board of Directors analyzed the results of their inquiries and came, according to Hall (who was involved in the process throughout), "to a unanimous feeling that for the good of Harvard and for the good of the Harvard University Press, a change was in order."

Early in the week of February 14-18 Carroll received a call from Bok's secretary informing him that the President wanted him to make an appointment. On the eighteenth Bok and Carroll met. Bok told the director that he had decided to make a change in administration at the Press and asked for Carroll's resignation. Carroll refused to resign, seeing no point in pretense. Bok then gave Carroll his dismissal, effective immediately.

HE OFFERED MARK the choice of how he wanted to handle the situation," Bok said last week. "He wanted it to be made clear that we wanted him to leave. He chose to be fired."

Bok promised Carroll six months' severance pay, with the condition that he would receive six months' more if he were unable to find a job by the end of the first half year. To date Carroll is still unemployed.

After the dismissal, Carroll, at the Administration's request, wrote a note to the employees of the Press, explaining what had happened. The note was not immediately delivered, and Carroll left Cambridge for a holiday in Philadelphia. On the following Thursday, when the story was on the verge of leaking to the news media, Hall went personally to the Press and read a similar note to the employees, explaining what had transpired. The next day, Carroll's memorandum was circulated among the Press's staff.

"We wanted the news to come from management," Hall said last week, "rather than to have the employees find out via the news media." Unfortunately, the Administration in Mass Hall did not issue any official explanation (other than a brief notice in the Harvard Gazette).

The Board of Syndics was miffed at Bok's lack of consultation with them on the decision. However, Bok moved to smooth their ruffled feathers, when, on March 11, he met with the Syndics and presented his position. At that time Bok assured them that in the future all major changes at the Press would come only after consultation with both the Board of Directors and the Board of Syndics.

The question "Why was Mark Carroll dismissed?" is still, four months later, largely unanswered. Administration officials, particularly Bok and Hall, are reluctant to discuss specific reasons for the action. Bok, contacted last week, withheld comment, and Hall would say only that he and Carroll "couldn't get on common philosophical wavelengths."

The relationship between Hall and Carroll was delicate, at best. However, while personal antagonism made the relationship of the two men more difficult than it could have been, the differences between them go beyond personality.

Hall and Carroll split greatly in approach to the problems facing the Press. And their individual styles were both uncompromising. Hall brought with him commitment to making his business ventures sound in every way. Carroll was totally dedicated to the academic and scholarly aspects of his work. He was concerned primarily with the editorial aspects of his position. The conflict between economics and scholarly pursuits was inevitable. Furthermore, there was indication that Carroll was less than enthusiastic about the new innovations that Hall was in the process of bringing into the operations of the Press.

Under Hall's administration, the Press was brought under a general management plan which includes ten service organizations of the University. The grouping of the Press with the other organizations (Buildings and Grounds, Faculty Club, Food Services, Personnel, Planning, Police, Printing, Purchasing and Insurance, Real Estate) is historically motivated, rather than based on similarities in the administration of the individual organizations.

The general management plan required that each director prepare a "milestone programming report," which would indicate what the goals of each organization were and which would give direction to the activities of the respective groups. Carroll was not enthusiastic about the milestone programming idea, and there is evidence that he felt it to be an unnecessary exercise for the Press.

THE GENERAL PLAN attempted to put into one general framework a number of diverse elements," Carroll said last week. "You just can't do that."

Hall did not agree and felt that Carroll was being unnecessarily difficult to deal with. However, Hall disclaims any insinuations that he was trying to shove his program down Carroll's throat.

"All we wanted Carroll to do," Hall said last week, "was to check around, to make some tests, to find out what was wrong and why we were losing money."

These conflicts between Hall and Carroll, while significant, were not the only reasons for Carroll's dismissal. The question of the half-million dollar deficit was still to be resolved. Administration officials have steadfastly refused to discuss Carroll's business talents. However, there remains the unalterable fact that Harvard Press was running in the red. What was responsible for the losses?

Carroll attributes them to a number of variables that have gone bad for university presses in the last five years, and three factors in particular. First, a general falling off of the economy has cut into university presses more than others because the type of material that they publish is not what the public buys for pleasure. Today the readers of scholarly works are apt to pick them up at the library instead of purchasing them for themselves. Secondly, there has been a cut in Federal appropriations to libraries which further depletes the University Press's market. Thirdly, Carroll cites an inefficient order fulfillment procedure as a reason for the Harvard Press's huge fiscal deficit. During Carroll's directorship the Press's warehousing and shipping was run by Harvard's Computer Center. The Press had its own warehouse and staff, but could not efficiently handle its volume of business. Carroll wanted to switch the warehousing and shipping procedures over to Technical Impex Corporation (TIC) in Lawrence, but was stymied by executive decision.

Last week, Hall acknowledged these factors as causes for the Press's financial problems, but he also implied that operations could have been tightened up considerably. There is evidence of dissatisfaction among Administration officials over budgeting procedures under Carroll. In the fiscal year 1970-1971, for example, the projected deficit for the year was budgeted at $150,000. When the fiscal year was up, the account books of the Press revealed that the actual deficit was not $150,000 but over $450,000, a variance of over $300,000. In the same year, the total income was estimated at $2.76 million when the actual income was only $2.1 million, and budgeted expense was predicted at a $2.9 million figure, when the actual expense ran around $3.2 million. For the current fiscal year, 1971-1972, the deficit is now projected to be over $375,000 on a budget that was designed to break even.

HALL'S MANAGEMENT PLAN for the administration of the Press brings with it a program to balance the budget over a five-year period and also introduces a number of marketing innovations that have not been used in the past at the Press. The management plan seeks to reduce the deficit from this year's $375,000 to $150,000 in the next fiscal year. From there it hopes to gradually reduce it further, until, in the fiscal year 1976-1977, the Press will break even.

Beyond this, under the management plan the Press has succeeded in shifting warehousing and sales over to Technical Impex, which will save the Press upwards of $200,000 annually. The switch to TIC enables the Press to cut back on staff from this year's total of 147 to a more efficient--and less costly--77. The reduction in personnel could save the Press another $30,000.

In the marketing area the management plan provides for the institution of a tracking system of individual books, to determine their sales and market performance. Furthermore, the plan calls for the institution of a system of market testing in order to decrease the question factor in decisions determining the size of first editions.

Although Hall's management plan steers clear, for the most part, of dictating editorial policy, it does suggest two things that could enhance sales and income for the Press. First, the plan suggests that the Press publish more reference works that would give a steady market yield over the years. It also suggests that the Press acquire or develop books that could be utilized for classroom use. This does not imply that the Press will go in for commercial textbook publication--it only states that the Press will be amenable to publishing the type of work that could be utilized in a classroom situation as well as outside it.

Another change in the operations of the Press will come in the number of books published annually. Last year the Press published over 160 books. Under the new plan it will cut back to approximately 120. This contraction in the number of books published will enable the Press to concentrate on marketing the books it does publish with more efficiency.

Hall stresses that his management plan is still highly flexible, and he is enthusiastic about the possibilities that it will open up to the Press. According to Hall, in the four months that the plan has been in effect, the Press has already begun to strengthen its economic position.

Last week Hall said that "right now we believe the Press is stronger than it has been at any time in the past few years," and that he hoped with "tremendous enthusiasm" that "the things we have started will grow to make the Press great."

HALL'S ENTHUSIASM is not just paternal praise for his new program. Others have concurred with his evaluation.

Brian Murphy, operations manager of the Press, said last week that Hall's analysis, financially speaking, was correct. "We are now on a firmer economic base than we were before," he said.

Maude E. Wilcox, editor for the Humanities of the Harvard Press since 1957, agreed. "There was a feeling that we have overextended ourselves in terms of financial commitment," she said last week.

Under the new management plan the Press seems to be recovering. The marketing innovations are helping direct and improve the sales of the books that the Press publishes, and the new warehousing and shipping systems are giving more efficient--and less costly--fulfillment of orders. It would seem that, financially at least, the Press is on the way back.

But what is the editorial situation? At the time of Carroll's dismissal, there was considerable sentiment in the Harvard community that the move signalled the takeover of the Press by "money men." Have the economic changes in fact affected the editorial end of the Press's operations and will they in the future?

Four months after the fact, it would seem that fears of a sacrifice of scholarly pursuits for fiscal stability, which were expressed at the time of Carroll's dismissal are unfounded. Both Bok and Hall have repeatedly stated that the changes in administration will have no effect on the editorial policy of the Press.

"We have had to go through a temporary period of financial and administrative controls to alleviate the financial problems of the Press," Bok said last week. "However, it is not our desire to place longterm administrative controls on the Press or to dictate editorial policy."

Hall was equally emphatic in expressing that the aims of his administrative changes were not directed at controlling editorial content. "We have two absolute guidelines," he said last week. "First, every exemplary scholarly work will be published, regardless of cost. Secondly, we have no interest in making a profit as long as there are good scholarly works the Syndics feel should be published."

"Financially, we are now in much more control of what our commitments are; we are more in control of where we are going with our operations."

OPERATIONS MANAGER MURPHY expressed similar sentiments. "From the first," he said, "our aim has not been to make profits. It is not our intention that every book will make money. However, we hope that the successful books will absorb the losses of the less successful ones. We hope our tracking system will allow us to insure this more efficiently."

The administrative changes are aimed at the coordination of the scholarly and the economically sound. If early returns are any indication, it seems that the new management policies set the Press on the right track.

After the dismissal of Carroll, David H. Horne became acting director, a post he held until March 27 when he resigned to become director of the University Press of New England. Since then the Press's Directorship has been held by Oscar Handlin, Warren Professor of American History. At present a five-man search committee is looking for a successor to replace Carroll as permanent director. The committee, chaired by James Q. Wilson, professor of Government, includes Donald L. Fanger, professor of Slavic and Comparative Literature; Archibald Cox, Williston Professor of Law; Bertrand Fox, Shiff Professor of Investment Banking; and Simon M. Bessie, Chairman of the Visiting Committee. Wilson and Fanger are members of the Board of Syndics for the Harvard Press.

The search committee is still in its early stages, and has made a point of consulting with the Board of Syndics as a unit. It has solicited recommendations from the world of commercial publishing, from the world of university publishing, and from faculty members. According to Wilson, the committee is "just beginning to work through the recommendations."

Fox said last week that the committee is still gathering names as possible recommendations for the position. "We are just doing some preliminary sifting of the candidates," Fox said.

Wilson said that the committee is meeting bi-weekly and that it would narrow down the field in a couple weeks. "We hope to get it done by the end of the summer," he said. "We don't have a definite target date, but let's say that if we didn't have a firm recommendation to put on the President's desk by the end of the summer, he would be somewhat less than pleased."

While the Administration has steered clear of the search committee's quest for a new director, both Bok and Hall have distinct opinions on what type of man is needed to head the Harvard Press.

"Our aim," Bok said last week, "is to find somebody whose main interest is to maintain the scholarly and intellectual goals of the Press."

Hall differed slightly, "I want a guy," Hall said, "who is intelligent and innovative enough to make the Harvard University Press into a great press.

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