Rosenthal Takes Over a Troubled Press

He Foresees a Resurgence of Harvard's Operation, Despite Problems

President Bok's appointment last month of Arthur J. Rosenthal, former Chairman of the Board of Basic Books. Inc., as the new director of the Harvard University Press ended a six-month search that began with the firing of the former director and the stark realization that the Press might lose $500,000 in fiscal year 1972.

Rosenthal has experience both as an editor and as an executive. He founded Basic Books--a company which publishes scholarly works similar to those sought by the Harvard Press--in 1950. "I consider myself an editor first, rather than an administrator," said Rosenthal. "I want the Press to become a vibran' part of the Harvard community, a place where both faculty and students are welcome."

Why Rosenthal left the comfortable position of Editor-in-Chief with a successful book company--earlier this year Basic Books was sold to Harper & Row--to take over the reins of the troubled Harvard Press is as puzzling question. Rosenthal said that he left because "Harvard's press is going to be the top book company in the next decades."

"Commercial presses are in for a few problems in the next 10 years. Besides, my move to Harvard is a natural extension of the work I did with Basic Books," he added.

Still, a $500,000 deficit is not to be taken lightly, although it is largely the reason Rosenthal was hired at all. Since the 1971-1972 budget had called for the Press to break even, the sudden appearance of a half-million dollar deficit created quite a stir in Massachusetts Hall, and eventually the dismissal of the director, Mark S. Carroll '50.


Six months later...however, it appears that the Press is well on its way to solvency. The projected $500,000 loss has been cut to $250,000 and according to the Press's operation manager Bryan Murphy, this year's deficit might not exceed $100,000.

Apparently last year's large loss came as no surprise to Stephen S.J. Hall, administrative vice-president. Hall, ex officio member of the Press's Board of Directors, said that he realized the Press would be unable to break even as soon as he examined the budget in August 1971.

Hall's influence on the Press cannot be underestimated. Prior to his arrival with the Bok administration, the Press had been on shaky footing at best. In 1970-71, the deficit exceeded $450,000, and the Press has run in the red since 1967-68. The Press's creed that it existed "to publish as many good scholarly works as possible, short of bankruptcy," seemed to have been taken literally.

As the financial crisis deepened, the Bok administration took drastic measures to put the Press back on its feet. Carroll's abrupt dismissal, although a surprise to the director himself, came after long deliberations between Bok, Hall, and the Board of Directors. When the decision was made to ask Carroll for his resignation, however, Carroll refused to resign, and Bok dismissed him.

Part of Carroll's problem as director stemined from differences of opinion with Hall. Both Hall and Carroll have admitted to personal antagonism, but the differences didn't stop there. Hall viewed the Press as business while Carroll's attitude stuck closely to the Press's academic and scholarly ideals. The conflict that developed between economics and scholarly pursuits seemed inevitable.

As new director. Rosenthal has inherited an organization that has changed abruptly in the past six months." Last March, the Press switched its warehouse and shipping operation from Harvard's Computer Center to Technical. Impex Corporation (TIC) in Lawrence. TIC is a more efficient outfit which has saved the Press close to $200,000. Although TIC has had trouble handling orders in 72 hours, as their contract with the Press demands, since August they've handled about 90 per cent of all orders in less than three days.

Rosenthal brings the executive experience to the Press which Carroll seemed to lack. During his 20 years as head of Basic Books, Rosenthal established a company well-known for its publication of scholarly works while at the same time maintaining a sound economic operation.

According to Hall, Rosenthal's appointment makes Harvard's press the best in the country. "Rosenthal has a fine eye for what constitutes a scholarly work," Hall said. "He is both an editor and an astute business man."

Hall's confidence in Rosenthal and the Press marks a change from his position when the search committee for a new director was organized last February. The search committee's task wasn't made any easier by the resignation of the acting director, David H. Horne, in May. Horne left to head the University Press of New England. Oscar Handlin. Warren Professor of American History, replaced him.

While Handlin quietly struggled to keep the Press's head above water, the search committee began reducing the list of 100 possible directors. The committee--chaired by James Q. Wilson, chairman of the Government Department--narrowed the list down to five, and chatted informally with Rosenthal and others before making its final decision.