My non-resignation letter
You may have noticed that on Monday, Yale University and Yale Alumni Publications, Inc.—the governing board of the nonprofit that publishes this magazine—released a joint statement announcing that much is changing at the Yale Alumni Magazine. Starting July 1, we will become a department of Yale.
The reactions have been mixed, but one in particular made me realize that our readers could use more information. Eric Weinberger ’89 wrote, in a comment on our website, “I don’t know why the editor hasn't resigned.” Two reasons:
First, resignation would be an appropriate move, maybe the only move, in response to a hostile takeover. But in our situation, Yale’s action is much more like a rescue.
Our business model has been slowly but steadily failing. Our budget depended for decades on the Yale College class treasuries: the individual classes covered the subscriptions for all of their classmates. Who funded the class treasuries? The fraction of alumni in every class who paid their class dues. The system worked, and everyone was happy, as long as that dues-paying fraction was comfortably large—big enough to fund both the magazine and class activities. And so it was, until recently.
Today, the class dues system is dying off in colleges around the country, including Yale. In the Yale College classes of 1971 through 2013, an average of only 17 percent pay their dues. Class treasuries are strained. As for the magazine, we have been increasingly subsidizing the class subscriptions. We have watched our revenue from class subscriptions moving downward, step by step. We cut back, we increased our fundraising, we investigated other subscription and publishing models—but it became apparent to our board and to me that we were heading toward financial failure.
Second: Yale has committed to maintaining the magazine as a publication of high-quality journalism, not a mouthpiece. Yes, the Yale administration will unquestionably have more input than before. But Yale has pledged, in the formal agreement with our board, to support “robust journalistic coverage of the University” and to “accord a great deal of editorial discretion” to the magazine. To preserve the magazine’s individual voice and point of view, it will not become part of the communications or development departments. Moreover, our board will remain in place, including three prominent American journalists, and it is charged to meet at least twice a year and “explicitly give counsel about whether the Yale Alumni Magazine is delivering sophisticated journalism through rigorous reporting.”
And so I believe it is much better for me to stay and to give this new model my best shot. Both Yale and our board had asked me to remain, and the staff and I deeply appreciate their confidence in our work. The Yale Alumni Magazine has been delivering its particular brand of lux and veritas for 124 years. I regret that our old structure could not last forever—but I’ve heard somewhere that few things do. So I’m relieved and glad that we will continue in a very similar form. Our mission statement retains its directive to “impartially explore the achievements, issues, and problems of the University—of its administration, faculty, and student body—in order to convey a complete, fair, and accurate understanding of Yale today.” And that is what we plan to keep on doing.
We rely on our readers to keep a careful eye on our progress: to let us know, as you always do, whether we’ve lived up to your best hopes and expectations. Beginning with the September/October issue, we will no longer be published by an independent nonprofit. But the staff and I will still be guided by our constant question: are we delivering to the alumni what they need and want to know? I’ve said publicly many times that we work for you. It’s still true.