Sat. Oct. 25 5:48 pm
Friday, Oct. 12, 2012

Trustees approve UCA-OA pact

LOG CABIN STAFF WRITER

The Oxford American, a well-known Southern literary magazine, will stay at the University of Central Arkansas, officials said Friday.

“We’re very excited about it,” said Rollin Potter, dean of the College of Fine Arts and Communication.

Officials from both sides have been negotiating a memorandum of understanding to “clarify” the relationship between UCA and the magazine for weeks. The new official agreement enhances UCA’s role in the prestigious magazine and fits into the university’s effort to develop a new creative writing master’s program, which started this fall, Potter said.

Potter and other faculty were involved in the negotiations between the magazine and UCA.

The Board of Trustees approved Friday the memorandum despite concerns from one trustee that UCA has not benefitted from having the magazine on campus in the past. Even so, the memorandum was approved unanimously in a voice vote.

The agreement — between the Oxford American Literary Project and UCA — will be signed in the next week and become official, spokesman Jeff Pitchford said.

The five-year agreement gives UCA two full-page ads worth roughly $4,000 each in each magazine issue, places at least two unpaid interns at the magazine each school year and allows faculty involvement, including faculty-held seats on a new editorial board at the magazine.

In exchange, the university will continue to give the magazine space on campus and $50,000 a year, President Tom Courtway said.

“With interns, with new involvement of faculty ... and the value of advertising, we believe there is benefit for continuing (the relationship),” Courtway said.

Potter said the new agreement also benefits students by offering them a chance to write for a magazine considered to be “the New Yorker of the South.”

Officials at UCA decided to revisit and strengthen the relationship between the magazine and the university after founder and editor Marc Smirnoff and managing and art editor Carol Ann Fitzgerald were fired over allegations of sexual harassment this past July. The university investigated sexual harassment claims in the magazine’s campus offices and made recommendations for improving work conditions in August.

The magazine, which has struggled financially, moved to Arkansas in 2002 and then moved under UCA in 2004, when the first agreement with UCA was signed. The agreement was extended in 2007 but expired in 2010, according to UCA documents. A new one was never drafted until now.

The new agreement is meant to tie up loose ends and to make sure UCA is paid the $700,000 the university loaned to the magazine during the first three or four years it was on campus, Courtway and Pitchford said.

Courtway told trustees the $700,000 loan was “at risk” of not being repaid without a new agreement. The new memorandum acknowledges literary board Chairman Rick Massey’s pledge to pay off half the $700,000 debt at a rate of about $69,000 a year over about five years, Courtway and magazine Publisher Warwick Sabin said. The agreement also stipulates that if either party breaks the agreement, the magazine still owes the debt.

In the memorandum, the magazine agrees to pay toward its debt when it has a “positive cash flow.” The magazine’s financial outlook has been rocky in the past but is improving, Sabin said.

“We are obviously working toward profitability,” he said.

Sabin said currently the magazine couldn’t afford to make a payment toward its debt using positive cash flow. There also is no date yet set for when Massey might begin payments to UCA, Sabin said.

Sabin said the magazine’s fiscal year ends Dec. 31.

“Everything we’ve been doing has been very transparent,” Sabin said. “You can see the progress we’ve made. I think that’s why President Courtway and the trustees have confidence in what we are doing.”