Opinion: Community Responds to the Gettysburg Review’s Termination

Compiled by Laken Franchetti, Editor-in-Chief

 

Mirabelle Cohen ’22, Former Gettysburg Review Intern:

“During my four years at Gettysburg, I spent much of my time working with Mark and Lauren. I was their intern during my sophomore year, and continued to work for them as a staff member through my senior year. They taught me how to read critically and discern what makes a story great. Each week, we would gather in the library room to discuss stories and essays from past editions. There, I learned how to listen to my inner voice while absorbed in someone else’s writing. With Mark and Lauren’s guidance, I developed my very own personal taste.

I learned valuable skills at the Gettysburg Review, which I use in my current job at the Morgan Library and Museum. My work at the Review was listed at the top of my resume when I graduated from college. My experience there is what I talked about most frequently in interviews. I have been proud to associate myself with a reputable literary magazine, and one run by such compassionate, intellectually curious, kind people…

Your choice to end the publication after thirty-five years is a great loss to the literary world and an [sic] greater loss to the students of Gettysburg College. Please reconsider.”

 

Christopher Kempf, Emerging Writer Lecturer in the English Department (2016-2017), Published Writer in the Gettysburg Review and Assistant Professor in the Department of English at the University of Illinois:

“Like many writers, artists, and academics, I first learned about Gettysburg College through Gettysburg Review; having visited the town as a tourist in high school, I was shocked to learn—many years later, while reading GR in graduate school at Cornell—that there was, in fact, a college in Gettysburg, and that it seemed a haven for the literary and liberal arts. I was thrilled, then, to come work at Gettysburg College after a Stegner Fellowship at Stanford and a Ph.D. at the University of Chicago. It was during this time that I met Peter Stitt, Mark Drew, and Lauren Hohle and began to work with the magazine on a regular basis, volunteering for over a decade now—and despite considerable limitations on my time—because I have believed in Peter’s founding vision and in the stewardship of that vision under Mark and Lauren. Some of the happiest days of my life, and some of the best literary conversations, took place in the Gettysburg Review offices on Washington Street, where I sat with Mark, Lauren, and undergraduate students discussing literature like it was the most important thing in the world…

‘It had to be done,’ you will perhaps say. The decision, you will say, was a “cost-cutting measure” to focus on the primary mission of Gettysburg College. Yet for the undergraduates who worked with the magazine, and for those in English and related majors who saw the energy around it, GR has been an integral part of that mission. Beyond the first-hand experience in publishing and literary editing, students at Gettysburg were able to hear readings from esteemed national writers brought to campus under the auspices of Gettysburg Review. You will not, being new to Gettysburg, remember a restaurant called The Blue Parrot, but when I think of those years I recall fondly dinners there with students, faculty, and visiting writers, an experience which few other schools offer to undergraduates. Your ignorance of these advantages, and your radical decision to close GR, reflect profound structural and ideological mismanagement of the College, de-prioritizing literature and the arts in favor of STEM-and business-based disciplines…

The literary arts are not frivolous, nor is GR ancillary to the mission of the liberal arts college. Among the thousands of submissions to the magazine I read each year, hundreds come from retired lawyers, tech workers, doctors, businesspeople, and other professionals, writers who rather late in their lives have come to the realization that there exists a world beyond money, a “good life,” as the Greeks once called it, of art and culture and of sustained, ruminative thought—and of which these writers had zero experience in their career-oriented educations. Your students will no doubt leave Gettysburg College well-versed in capital asset pricing, electron transport chains, and viral marketing, but at some point they will wonder—as no doubt you have—what it is all for, what it means to watch the leaves shimmer in the light of June or to be in a dinner party with genuine artists or to appreciate the social and political power of language or to construct a sentence which moves through tonal and syntactical ranges one had not thought possible. Gettysburg Review published these sentences, showed us that power, hosted those dinner parties, and brought both local and national attention to the great mystery and beauty in the world around us. I am deeply saddened that the administration fails to see it, and I urge you to reconsider this inappropriate decision.”

See Kempf’s full letter to President Bob Iuliano and Provost Jamila Bookwala on the literary magazine Preposition’s website.

 

Jen Bryant ’82, Published Author:

“As a 1982 graduate, I was on campus before the Review began. But I’ve been a subscriber for many years since its inception and have a deep appreciation for its impact on the larger literary world as well as its—by now, long—history with the college. That being said, I’ve also been in the writing profession for roughly 35 years and have seen—and have had to personally adjust to–the enormous changes and challenges there. Viewing those side by side with the changes and challenges facing colleges like Gettysburg, it’s not hard to see why tough choices must be made. In short, I will miss the GR’s excellence, but I also understand and support the college’s decision in this case.”

 

Sara Levinson ’09, member of the Alumni Board of Directors and recently established her own Gettysburg Fund scholarship:

The Gettysburg Review brings prestige and recognition to the college far beyond the grounds of the campus by publishing the work of great writers (Billy Collins, Rita Dove, Joyce Carol Oates, to name only a few). English majors at Gettysburg can work as interns at the Review, and gain exposure to a highly prestigious literary publication; an experience afforded to few college students on their campuses in this country. 

While I understand that the college must make difficult decisions in the face of the current climate for higher education, I have reason to believe faculty members and Review staff were not even consulted about this decision, which is deeply disappointing. Though I never interned with the Review, I can assure you that without my experiences in the English department, the reputation of which is deeply enriched by the Review’s very existence, I would not have the connection to the college and the philanthropy to its mission that I have today.”

 

Arielle Distasio ’12, former Gettysburgian Editor-in-Chief, chair of the DC Alumni Club, recipient of the Young Alumni Award for Service and member of the Alumni Board of Directors:

“Unfortunately for me, I never had a personal connection to the Gettysburg Review, but looking back, I’ve often wished I’d been engaged in an internship or other work with them, as I believe it would have helped me further develop many skills in a unique and advanced environment not found in many institutions. As I discussed with my (non-Gettysburg alumnus) partner at length last night after he saw this story pop up on Yahoo News, I see the move to shutter the Gettysburg Review as yet another in a string of similar decisions. Shuttering the Review, much like suspending the teacher certification program or investing more in theoretical leadership programs than in extracurriculars that provide hands-on opportunities to develop leadership skills (such as The Gettysburgian), seem, to me, a result of an inability to see past face value when assessing College opportunities. Teacher certification not only prepares students to be classroom educators (a critical need in the current-day United States) but also develops students’ skills in critical thinking, public speaking, providing feedback, or translating information for digestion (by high school students or by high-level business executives). Publications such as the Gettysburgian, the Mercury, and the Gettysburg Review provide not only opportunities for students to improve their writing and editing skills but also leadership, working on diverse teams, analyzing information, producing content on a deadline, managing competing priorities and deadlines across extracurriculars and classwork, and budgeting. It is disappointing to me that the decision to reduce or eliminate these opportunities seems to have been made in at least somewhat of a vacuum, not considering the secondary and tertiary impact on student development and not leveraging the financial situations as opportunities to further push students’ creative thinking, agility, and financial management skills. Any college or university can teach you face value expertise. The reason I attended, loved, and later recruited colleagues from Gettysburg College is the unique liberal arts environment. Especially as we progress in a world filled with AI that will be able to complete many face value tasks, the importance of developing eternal and deeply human skills will become ever more important. One of those skills, I believe, is the ability to think outside a programmed box – to experiment in thought and concept. The best part of a liberal arts education boils down to experimentation and exploration in a lower risk environment, trying new subjects, new hobbies, new perspectives without the risks that come with that potential trial and error in the real world. None of this is to mention the full-time employees impacted by such decisions or the value loss to the Gettysburg College brand by no longer having the same recognition in teaching, literary, or creative circles. So, I hope that in its new strategic direction, the College does not lose sight of the core principles and values that have led Gettysburg College and its students and alumni to success thus far in its 190+ year history.”

 

Daniel DeNicola, former Provost of Gettysburg College (1996-2006) and Professor Emeritus of Philosophy:

“I am heartbroken and dismayed by the action to terminate the Gettysburg Review and its editors. I am not alone, as you must know from the turmoil on social media, but I may have a unique and useful perspective from my ten years as Provost.  

Financial pressures are commanding, we all know well, and while painful short-term decisions are required, they need not be short-sighted. I suppose that, facing a contracted budget, the Gettysburg Review appeared to be low-hanging fruit: a self-contained operation that is tangential to our student-focused mission, having a small, untenured staff, and little on-campus impact. I believe these perceptions are profoundly misguided, and this action is a mistake, and a lasting step backward. (I cannot speak to the way in which it was decided or communicated, though that is almost an equal focus of the anger flooding social media.) Please bear with me and permit me to explain. 

  1.       The Gettysburg Review is undeniably of excellent quality. While I was Provost, the GR celebrated its tenth anniversary: the publication and pieces published therein had won over 100 major awards and honors. Similar recognitions have continued in the years since. The staff are first-rate. Frankly, I think it should be identified as one of our notably “distinctive programs of excellence,” along with the Eisenhower Institute and a precious few others; our close peers have nothing to match it. We have a long and distinguished tradition in creative writing—from Kathrine Kressmann Taylor to the present day.  We should celebrate and encourage it, especially since it reflects a strong academic curriculum in writing.  The College might develop many excellent programs—but this one exemplifies a central academic skill,  displays intellectual and artistic excellence, and has a well-established and respected identity. Gettysburg has very little, if anything, that consistently carries such elevated national rankings. 
  1.       I first learned of Gettysburg College when I read the Chronicle’s announcement of the establishment of the Gettysburg Review. It was, I thought, a bold and brilliant move—against the constellation of other liberal arts colleges.  Its success and the College’s commitment to it were the initial factors that led me to apply in Gettysburg’s national search. The quality and creativity of the GR has a positive and significant impact on the public image and academic reputation of Gettysburg College, though this is admittedly difficult to quantify.  I know it to be so from years of conversations with senior administrators from other colleges; I still encounter scholars who mention the GR as an admirable, even enviable, asset to the College. The editor of The American Scholar (Phi Beta Kappa) once spoke eloquently of the magazine as “a badge of academic quality for Gettysburg.”  I have seen the GR displayed prominently in New York, London and Paris bookstores and newsstands. It helped propel us into the US News top 50 rankings. Unfortunately, when the story of its demise reaches the Chronicle as it surely will, it will be read as a sign of institutional fragility.  
  1.       The GR’s benefit to our students is powerful but subtle and often indirect. The best colleges sustain a small but distinctive set of programs that face an external, non-collegiate, constituency. The reputation and success of such programs depends on how they are regarded by their external constituency. Too close an identification with undergraduate education reduces their impact. The Gettysburg Review is one such program—along with the Eisenhower Institute, The Civil War Institute, the Sunderman Conservatory, the Majestic Theaterthat will not really succeed if the external public regards them as “collegiate,” a place for student writing. The reputation of a literary/art magazine depends on the regard it has among writers and publishers, artists and gallery directors—not on its direct services for students. Having such programs, however, provides some students with opportunities they could not have at most colleges, if any; but it benefits all students indirectly in the value of their diploma in the public arena—and the GR has done both. Pruning such programs deflates the institution, robs it of its links to wider constituencies and some of its distinctiveness. 
  1.       Finally, I’m surprised that apparently no one in authority seems to view the GR as a financial asset. That’s unfortunate. At the most basic level, its copyrights, its stock of back issues, its brand are worth something. The magazine itself might attract a publishing partner, or even be sold with some continuing recognition for the College. (I recall an unsolicited conversation with a publisher who was inquiring about just such a partnership some years ago.) Moreover, I think the current editors could have been helpful, given a chance, to develop and evaluate such prospects. So could someone like our loyal and generous English major, Daria Wallach. To simply dismiss employees and send everything to archives actually wastes an institutional asset. 

Even from the marginal position of a professor emeritus and very minor donor, it is easy to detect a tension beyond the normal, a growing cognitive dissonance, between the upbeat, aspirational, and future-oriented discourse with donors and alumni, and the gloomy, apocalyptic, urgent discourse with faculty and staff. I worry that this action threatens to puncture the former and deepen the latter.  And I suspect it will make more difficult the work of a newly-arrived provost and her staff. It has clearly affected faculty-staff morale.

Thank you for your patience with so long a letter. I know how hard you are working to preserve and advance the College. I truly wish you success for yourselves and the College, wisdom in these parlous times, and a thoughtful reconsideration of this decision.”

 

Lauren Barrett ’09, majored in English with a Writing Concentration with a minor in Environmental Studies:

“The Review was (and remains) an underlying pulse of the department, and was a publication that I always aspired to being featured in. I was published in The Mercury four times as a student, but as an alumni, I see the Gettysburg Review as exemplary of excellence in writing and publishing, and I’d hoped to count myself among its contributors someday. Sadly, the college that I dearly loved and made me the writer that I am today has put a swift and unceremonious end to not only my future aspirations as a writer, but also for the many writers who might have found their career pathway through the gateway that is the Gettysburg Review. 

– As an English + Writing alumni, I’m disheartened by how this process unfolded. To be brutally honest, it’s not my first experience with this administration making significant cuts that impact a broad swathe of students, staff, faculty and alumni at Gettysburg. Outside of the English + ES departments, my college experience was largely defined by my experiences as a student facilitator with the Gettysburg Recreational Adventure Board, an outdoor leadership program that thrived for 20+ years under the Department of Experiential Education. While the process of dismantling this signature program began in 2019, the GRAB alumni and our many stakeholders (parents, student participants, faculty partners, outdoor industry colleagues, etc.) were not told about the dissolution of GRAB (along with its philosophy and training model) until spring 2021 when it was “absorbed” by the Garthwait Leadership Center. In response to this announcement, over 100 GRAB alumni joined a Zoom call with GLC leadership in an attempt to salvage the foundational philosophy, rigorous wilderness training model, and the very spirit of the program and tried to encourage the college to change course because of the incredible lifelong outcomes we’d experienced as a result of our participation as student outdoor leaders with programs such as ASCENT pre-orientation. After the disappointment I experienced as an alumni trying to advocate for a signature outdoor leadership program in higher education, it was with such a heavy heart that I read about the administrative decisions regarding the Gettysburg Review. History might not have perfect rhyme, but there’s an undeniable slant in how these decisions are made and delivered to important stakeholders. I hope that our Gettysburg community and the broader national writing community has more success in condemning this decision which directly impacts an academic department’s ability to engage with a broad literary body…

As a counselor who uses theories of life design and discernment to help students choose their trails (or blaze their own paths) with a spirit of lifelong learning and creativity, I value the knowledge that it’s never too late, or too hard, or impossible to conceive of taking a creative idea and making it a reality. This past year, I stepped away from traditional employment to help take care of my dad who was diagnosed with a rare blood cancer and given a finite amount of fragile time. During our many conversations throughout the year, my father encouraged me to pursue my love of writing and publishing – something that I never thought I’d hear from my more traditional father who was always concerned with how I might be employed with “a degree in poetry”! He passed two weeks ago, but his message has echoed with me throughout this year and even more loudly now. There are many writers – students, faculty, freelance, non-career, whatever – who don’t experience the immediate impact of having a career of publishing their work while in or right out of college. The Gettysburg Review is the embodiment of the dream of an undergraduate writing major – that student who is waiting for the story or poem that will change them and resonate with others. I hope the college administration reconsiders what we lose when we can’t sit with the idea of not always knowing the immediate future. The consequential education is taking what we learned at Gettysburg and using it to grow while we live our unpredictable lives. I hope that the Gettysburg Review remains an open pathway for all of us – a guided pathway, or perhaps a spontaneous one. Who knows right now? For myself, I hope I get a shot as an aspiring poet with the Gettysburg Review.”

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Author: Laken Franchetti

Laken Franchetti ’24 serves as the Editor-in-Chief for The Gettysburgian. She has previously served as News Editor, Assistant News Editor and as a staff writer for the news and arts and entertainment sections. Laken is an English with a writing concentration and history double major. On-campus, she is the Editor-in-Chief for Her Campus, the Nonfiction Genre Head for The Mercury and a user services assistant at Musselman Library. Laken is also a Lincoln scholar and spent the Fall ’22 semester abroad in London and Lancaster, England. In her free time, Laken is an avid film fan and enjoys reading.

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3 Comments

  1. These notes from the community at large are absolutely fantastic. With each one that I continue to see and absorb here and elsewhere across the social media landscape, I do hope they elect to open the asset for purchase, since it appears they have little interest at this juncture I continuing, so that we all may continue to GR for years to come.

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  2. As poet in late middle age who has known the review since it was begun by Peter Stitt and who has been honored to have appeared in its pages, I want to add my voice to those urging a turnaround on the decision to shutter its offices. Here are a few reasons:

    1) Most writers and readers in my world first became aware of Gettysburg College because of The Gettysburg Review; I would hope budget concerns would try and factor in the fiscal health of the college in this light. As a liberal arts institution that confers a English degree with a major or minor in creative writing, I assume a prospective student–with hundreds of creative writing programs to choose from–looks at the Review as an embodiment of your commitment to the field. The Review announces and elevates the college in the literary world–and to prospective students.

    2) Journals are the gatekeepers of our literary present and history. As with the difficult decisions the College is being forced to make, publishers of creative writing –mainstream, commercial, university based and independent–have ALL been affected by the economy in publishing, and there are fewer and fewer ably distributed publishers and journals.

    Please renew your commitment to your students–present and future–who work toward becoming writers and understanding the editorial process. Please hear the voices of the literary world from near and far letting you know the integral importance of the The Gettysburg Review’s contribution to 20th and 21st century literature!

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  3. I’m GLAD — yes, glad — that the Gettysburg Review shut down — all they ever published was academic piffle, and in the meantime gouged poor devils like me with constant $3 ‘reading fees,’ when our work had no chance of being fairly judged. No more ripoffs! TP

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