This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Aug. 28, 2012 - The University of Missouri Press will still be transferred to the Columbia campus from the four-campus system, but it will no longer be using students as outlined in a model that the school announced earlier this year.
Richard Wallace, the former chancellor at Columbia named to a transition team that will manage the switch, acknowledged after the change was announced Tuesday that the earlier moves announced by system President Tim Wolfe were not handled in a way that served the university well.
Emphasizing that he had been approached to get involved in the press changes only earlier this month, Wallace told the Beacon:
“I’d be a fool not to admit it could have been handled better.”
In a news release, the Columbia campus said responsibility for the UM Press had been transferred to Mizzou immediately, and current employees would remain in their jobs, including interim director Dwight Browne. He will be on the transition team with Wallace, Wolfe, Mizzou Chancellor Brady Deaton and Deborah Noble-Triplett, assistant vice president for academic affairs for the system.
They are asking for nominees to an advisory committee, from all four campuses, “to create a Press that will be adaptive to the changing world of scholarly communication,” the news release said.
The release added:
"With advice and assistance from the advisory committee, high priority will be given to recruiting an experienced, highly respected editor-in-chief, who also will have a faculty role."
Rather than use students in leadership roles, the university said it would have students working alongside professional staff.
Tuesday morning, Mizzou spokeswoman Mary Jo Banken said that Speer Morgan, who had been named director of the new press under the model announced last month, would "not have a leadership role per se in the new Press" but will continue as editor of "The Missouri Review," where he would work alongside the Press.
Tuesday afternoon, she backtracked on that, releasing this statement:
"As MU integrates the Press, the Missouri Review and other publications with the academic and research missions of the university, and as the university contributes to and stays abreast of the many dynamic changes taking place in the world of communications, Speer Morgan will have a leadership role. What his title will be is yet to be determined. He will continue in his present role as editor-in-chief of the Missouri Review."
(update begins) Then, Wednesday afternoon, in still another statement, Morgan's position with the Press was clarified yet again:
"Speer will not be involved in the operation or management of the Press. He will continue to direct The Missouri Review, and he will have a leadership role in our Media of the Future Program, which is focused on the impacts of rapidly changing technology on the ways in which we share and preserve information."(update ends)
Banken noted that Clair Willcox, who had been editor of the Press, is no longer employed there and that one other employee may have taken a job elsewhere. But other current employees are being asked to stay. She said the size and source of the budget for the Press as it moves to the Mizzou campus have not yet been determined.
Deaton said that as the Press moves from the system to the campus, its purpose will not change.
“Going forward, we envision that the Press will publish not less — but more — scholarly work,” he said in the news release. “A viable, fully functioning Press is essential to a major AAU university. The Press will continue to publish hard-copy books while adding a more broad-based and a longer-term approach to scholarly publishing while preserving the identity of the original Press.”
The release also quoted Wolfe as saying:
“The decision to move the University of Missouri Press to the Columbia campus is an important step in ensuring its full potential is realized and integrated into the academic and research missions of the university.
“My goal is to develop a Press that is vibrant and adaptive, but I realize that change is often difficult. I have been listening to the support and dedication the community and others have shown the Press, and make every assurance that university administration is working to create the kind of Press of which the academic community and those that it serves can be proud.”
Wolfe’s announcement in May that the Press would be shut down, then reconfigured to include students who would work alongside faculty to take over its operation, prompted strong criticism.
An online petition and a Facebook page attracted widespread support, and authors who had worked with the Press in the past registered their discontent in a variety of ways, including requests that their work be released so it could be handled by a press elsewhere.
Just this week, Tom Quirk, a long-time English professor at Mizzou, resigned as editor of the Mark Twain and His Circle series, 19 titles that had been published by the UM Press since 2003. According to a letter posted on Facebook, he criticized the way the Press situation was handled by Wolfe’s administration, concluding:
“I was contacted by another press to continue my series at that university, and I have agreed to do so. Still, after 33 years at Missouri, and I will be retiring after this year, I am left merely with the bitter taste of humiliation.”
Clearing the air and mending fences
Mending fences with such authors is one of the biggest jobs that the transition team for the Press faces, Wallace told the Beacon. He said he and his colleagues are working on a letter that he hopes “would in effect clear the air, at least in terms of what it is we are trying to do.”
Noting that he and other team members had met earlier in the day with Press employees, asking them to stay on, he said the letter would be designed to make the same pitch to authors who have published their books with the Press.
“We need you, we want you, we recognize that the quality of the press is defined by the quality of its publications,” Wallace said he hoped the letter would spell out. “We are proud of what we have. We want to keep those people on board I consider that to be my top priority.”
Wallace emphasized that though the Press would have a new home at Mizzou rather than with the system, “we’re not talking about a new model. The existing Press provides a very strong, appropriate foundation on which this institution needs to continue. We’re not talking about a revolution in the way we try to operate an academic press. We are talking about some evolutionary changes that would build on the foundation we have and be cognizant and intelligent about using changes in technology.”
He said the Press would continue to publish both in hard copy and electronically. As far as getting students involved, he noted that the Press already has used students, “and there are appropriate ways to do that. There will continue to be more. But no, we are not going to expect students to do the work of professional employees.”
He noted that already, with the university’s television and radio stations, students are learning by doing.
“We’re part of the university,” Wallace said of the Press, “and learning and teaching are important responsibilities. In most of what we do around the university, like with KOMU or KBIA, we involve our students in an appropriate way. It turns out to be a wonderful way in which the university gets a lot for very little money and students learn, so it’s a win-win all the way around.”
As far as repairing whatever damage that the Press situation has caused over the past two months, Wallace said:
“We kind of have a hole we’ve dug. At a minimum, what we’ve done today should keep it from getting any deeper and maybe do a little backfill.”
A Pyrrhic victory
Evidence of that salvage operation could be seen in a statement posted on the Save the University of Missouri Press Facebook page shortly after the university’s news release was issued.
With the headline “A TREMENDOUS VICTORY! A PYRRHIC VICTORY!” it said:
“This is a tremendous victory, but it is also bittersweet, because unfortunately the administration did not hear the thousands of people who protested this decision all summer and they have waited too long and mis-stepped too often.
"They can reverse their decision, but they can't reverse history.
"They have broken Humpty Dumpty. They have been reckless at Pottery Barn and now own a bunch of broken plates.”
Start update: Bruce Joshua Miller, who represents many university presses in his book distribution business and had been a leading critic of earlier proposals to change the UM Press, said Tuesday’s announcement leaves “a lot of unanswered questions.”
The most important one, he said, was why Willcox was let go as editor of the Press.
“It’s great that the university has seen the error of its ways,” Miller said. “But the fact that they have done a 180 on this whole thing brings up the question of why did they lay off Clair Willcox. It really shows that they haven’t really known what they were doing all along – but we knew that, right?”
Another concern, he added, was whether authors who were unhappy about prospective changes in the Press will now be willing to return. He credited their sustained criticism, along with the protests of faculty members at Mizzou and others, with the change of heart by university officials.
“Of course it did,” he said, “especially the author revolt. If it wasn’t for that, this wouldn’t have happened. Without the authors and series editors, what do they have? There would have been no basis on which to build a new press, and they said over and over they were building a new press. I think they did get an awful lot of pressure and were made to look awfully foolish, so it would make sense they would change course.”
Ned Stuckey-French, an English professor at Florida State University who has been another leader of the critics, also spoke up in favor of Clair Willcox and against including Speer Morgan in a leadership role in the new version of the Press.
"They're picking the wrong man," he said. "They're not picking the principled man."
The big issue remaining, he said, was the question of authors' rights and how they will be treated. His own book, "The American Essay in the American Century," was published by the UM Press last year.
Saying that the university administration can't just wave a wand and expect everyone to agree that the situation involving the Press has been resolved, Stuckey-French added:
"They're going to try to call this the same press. This is not the same press." End update.