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Decision to close University of Missouri Press meets with backlash

Sunday, June 10, 2012 | 6:00 a.m. CDT; updated 8:11 p.m. CST, Saturday, November 24, 2012
Books still in print are shelved in the front hallway of the University of Missouri Press. The press is scheduled to close this year because of budget cuts.

COLUMBIA — University of Missouri System president Tim Wolfe's May 24 announcement that University of Missouri Press will close at the end of the month has received attention from around the country.

Wolfe said in a statement that beginning July 1, the UM System will no longer provide its annual $400,000 subsidy to the publishing house, which, in addition to the subsidy, has been operating with a deficit of $50,000 to $100,000 per year for the past "several years," Jennifer Hollingshead, system spokeswoman, said. 

University of Missouri Press at a glance

University of Missouri Press was founded in 1958 by former English professor William Peden.

The press has produced more than 2,000 books during its 54 years in existence. It averages about 30 titles per year in various subjects, many of which focus on the state of Missouri.

Popular books published by the press include Upton Sinclair's "My Lifetime in Letters," "The Collected Works of Langston Hughes" series, "Atlas of Lewis and Clark in Missouri" and the "Mark Twain & His Circle" series.


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This money will now be used to further Wolfe's priorities for the four-campus system, Hollingshead said.

With the closing of the press, 10 employees will lose their jobs. These employees, though, have not received any more information than the public has, Beth Chandler, marketing manager, said.

Chandler said the press is important for a research institute because it is the vehicle for publishing, among many other works from around the world, the work of the university's professors.

Ned Stuckey-French, an English professor at Florida State University who published his first book at University of Missouri Press, said the operation publishes books that provide a great service to Missourians.

"It has a focus on the state, yet it represents Missouri nationally and internationally," he said.

Peter Givler, executive director of the American Association of University Presses, said this is true of many university publishing houses. A press, he said, spreads the reputation of a school, showcases its academic standards and "is a way to burnish the image of a university."

Stuckey-French said Wolfe "made a short-sighted decision, and he's going to damage the brand of the university."

To express these feelings, Stuckey-French wrote a letter denouncing the decision to close the press and sent it to various outlets, including newspapers, education committee members in the Missouri House and Senate and Wolfe himself. He started a petition to stop the closing of the press as well.

Stuckey-French also teamed up with Bruce Miller, a publishing representative in Chicago who created the Save the University of Missouri Press Facebook page. The page encourages people to "write to Tim Wolfe directly and let him know he needs to rescind his order to close the press," a May 28 post said.

On the page, which had 1,536 likes as of Friday, people from around the country have posted the letters they have written to Wolfe, urging him to reconsider.

Professors at MU also have expressed their dismay at the press's closing.

English professor Tom Quirk, a noted Mark Twain scholar, has written or edited five books that have been published by University Press. He said he was surprised by Wolfe's announcement.

"Times are tough, but I would have hoped they could come to a different decision," Quirk said.

Quirk said he is concerned about it because university presses publish scholarly works about people, places, history, architecture and more about their respective states that might otherwise not be published.

According to previous Missourian reporting, books that University Press would normally print will now be printed at other similar presses around the country.

Chandler said these books are in danger of not being printed at all, as commercial publishers are more concerned with sales. University Press often publishes books for much smaller audiences.

"There may be only 400 people who want to read some of our more scholarly publications," Chandler said. "But it's still 400 people."

"University presses matter because they make available the latest research without the pressure to conform to intellectual or commercial fashions," said E.J. Levy, who formerly taught creative nonfiction at MU and is scheduled to have a memoir published by University Press.

Levy said closing the operation is "an effort to solve a short-term economic crunch in a way that sacrifices in the long run the most fundamental mission of a research institution — the creation and dissemination of new knowledge."

The closing of University of Missouri Press is atypical of university presses around the country, Givler said.

"Scholarly publications are grappling with the transition from print to digital," Givler said. But in general, he said, presses are a "fairly stable community" and seem to be doing well.

He said he could only think of two or three university presses that have closed in the past 10 years.

One of those presses is the Eastern Washington University Press, which stopped operating in 2010 because of a budget deficit. The university had to reduce its budget by $26 million, so the press was cut, Dave Meany, director of media relations for Eastern Washington, said.

But that decision did not elicit a strong response.

"People who were tied to the press were disappointed — mostly faculty and staff," Meany said. "But there wasn't much backlash beyond the literary community."

Despite the backlash in regards to University of Missouri Press, though, Hollingshead said Wolfe is not reconsidering his decision to phase out the current model of the press.

A new, more sustainable model continues to be discussed, she said.

Supervising editor is Elizabeth Brixey.


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Comments

Ellis Smith June 10, 2012 | 6:57 a.m.

Again, nobody would be closing this facility if it were able to punt, pass, tackle, dribble, slam dunk, or bat .400 and steal bases.

Here we have a marvelous illustration of what now pass for "priorities" at University of Missouri System., which is apparently little more than a life support system for its NCAA Division I athletic programs.

(Report Comment)
Steven Whitaker, CRM June 10, 2012 | 4:21 p.m.

You need not print to publish. Continuing to fund a printing operation at a loss is bad business, unsustainable.

(Report Comment)
Louis Schneebaum June 10, 2012 | 8:26 p.m.

With nothing more than a BA, is Tim Wolfe the least educated president of a major university? How can an individual who literally has no concept of what academic research is like adequately preside over a large research institution? Until you take part in academics, you don't really 'get it'. The bachelor's degree doesn't even begin to take you there... Fitting that Wolfe's first action would be purely anti-academic, axing the press at an AAU school. It's CLEARLY all about the Benjies for the Wolf-man! Go ZOU ???

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith June 11, 2012 | 6:42 a.m.

Consider the most recent four University of Missouri System presidents, including the present one:

Manuel Pacheco (requested early retirement)
Elson Floyd (now president of Washington State University)
Gary Forsee (resigned due to illness in family)
Tim Wolfe

The first two listed hold PhDs and were/are career university administrators. Neither, so far as I am aware, had any serious experience with matters outside of academia. The last two listed had/have only bachelors degrees and their prior experience was outside academia. Both Forsee and Wolfe are graduates of this university system, but from different campuses.

Which situation better qualifies a person (the candidate could also be female) to successfully carry out the duties of president? If you examine the tenures of these four it's not easy to make a judgement. For one thing, it's a poor sample, because two of the four weren't here long, and Wolfe hasn't been here long.

Maybe the person himself/herself might have something to do with it.

This many presidents in a relatively short time can't be helpful either.

(Report Comment)
Louis Schneebaum June 11, 2012 | 10:24 a.m.

I agree that constantly changing leadership is probably not terribly beneficial to the system. But a CEO, whose soul business in life has been to make profits, is fundamentally geared for profit-making. Mix in the fact that these particular CEOs have never even attended graduate school and then ask yourself how they can offer legitimate insight into the management of an institution whose primary goal is a less tangible form of profit..

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams June 11, 2012 | 11:11 a.m.

A CEO's job consists of (1) setting overall institutional goals, (2) picking good managers who will work towards those goals, (3) making and accepting responsibility for big decisions offered by those managers who, as defined by their jobs, are more closely associated with day-to-day management of the institution, (4) PR (a huge part of the job), and (5) overseeing money flow through their CFOs.

Wolfe's lack of grad school has little to do with it. Managers are made by "managing" regardless the location of their "managing". His is a people- and money- and PR-job...nothing more, nothing less.

It amazes me there are actually folks who think police management from the bottom up is a bad thing, but university management from the bottom up is a good thing.

(Report Comment)
mike mentor June 11, 2012 | 11:30 a.m.

Funny how a liberal is declaring one with a mere BA degree as incapable of understanding the "complexities" of a university. Maybe Mr Wolfe received a more comprehensive education by mixing a BA with some real life business economics, than he would have by staying within the warm comfortable confines of acedemia. Perhaps the best leaders will have some experience in both worlds?

In fact, now that I think about it, why should anyone that has lived their lives entirely in the world of acedemia think that they could possibly understand the "complexities" of real world economics? Maybe we should ban these people from participating in the election process because they can't possibly make an informed decision about who the best people are to lead us in the real world...

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams June 11, 2012 | 11:32 a.m.

MikeM: In fact, now that I think about it, why should anyone that has lived their lives entirely in the world of acedemia think that they could possibly understand the "complexities" of real world economics? Maybe we should ban these people from participating in the election process because they can't possibly make an informed decision about who the best people are to lead us in the real world...
______________________

Good idea.

(Report Comment)
Louis Schneebaum June 11, 2012 | 11:51 a.m.

It is a University. A BA is not good enough. Just like a private cannot be a general.

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking June 11, 2012 | 12:15 p.m.

Louis Schneebaum wrote:

"Just like a private cannot be a general."

But a private can certainly become a general with ability and experience.

mike mentor wrote:

"Maybe we should ban these people from participating in the election process because they can't possibly make an informed decision about who the best people are to lead us in the real world..."

Mmm. We'd actually expect voters to have some knowledge of the issues they vore on? That borders on the unAmerican to me...

We get the government we vote for. Sometimes unfortunately...

DK

(Report Comment)
Louis Schneebaum June 11, 2012 | 12:53 p.m.

"But a private can certainly become a general with ability and experience."

No one denies that. BA = not qualified.

(Report Comment)
mike mentor June 11, 2012 | 3:27 p.m.

@Mark
Just having a little fun with the irony here. I am certainly not for banning anyone from the election process.

I am, however, amused that the liberal elite think it is beneath a university to be led by someone with a mere graduate degree, but are infuriated when their own qualifications to pontificate on real world subject matters are questioned because of their lack of experience in the real world.

See, if real world experience and wisdom do not count for anything behind the walls of academia, what weight should any wisdom or experience gained behind those same walls be given by those of us who live their lives in the real world?

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith June 11, 2012 | 5:41 p.m.

"BA = Not qualified." Forsee has a BS, and seemed to be doing rather well before he voluntarily resigned due to his wife's illness. So I suppose that a BS in engineering (from a tiny campus in the Ozarks) is also judged to be as unworthy as a BA.

To repeat, might performance also hinge on the PERSON and not on the degree? If that's NOT true, then anyone with a PhD should make a good university president, and we all know that's a joke.

As for the University Press, had one of MU's NCAA Division I athletic programs experienced financial difficulties we can safely bet it would receive all sorts of immediate attention, because those programs are IMPORTANT. We really have our priorities straight.

(Report Comment)
frank christian June 11, 2012 | 6:17 p.m.

"Despite the backlash in regards to University of Missouri Press, though, Hollingshead said Wolfe is not reconsidering his decision to phase out the current model of the press.

A new, more sustainable model continues to be discussed, she said."

Is this last sentence worth consideration by anyone?

(Report Comment)
Stephanie Proffer June 12, 2012 | 4:45 p.m.

Hey guys!

My name is Stephanie, and I'm the reporter for this story. Thanks for reading, and thanks for joining the conversation.

I'm especially interested in Mr. Christian's comment about the new model for the press. Does anyone have any ideas about how a new model could work or examples of more sustainable models used at other universities?

I'd love to hear from you. Please feel free to email me at skpzq7@mail.missouri.edu.

Thank you!

(Report Comment)
Louis Schneebaum June 12, 2012 | 6:08 p.m.

A B.S. from UMR (MST) is incalculably more difficult to obtain when compared to a B.A. from Mizzou, Columbia.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith June 13, 2012 | 6:29 a.m.

@ Louis Schneebaum:

Thank you for your endorsement of MS&T, but as I've suggested the actual person and their ability (or inability) to manage are large factors. We (MS&T) have alumni with only BS degrees who have established large, profitable businesses or become executives of large corporate businesses (including a president of General Motors) and we also have alumni who have had rather ordinary careers.

And if having a PhD plus experience managing a smaller public university were all that is needed to run this one, Elson Floyd would still be our president.

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking June 13, 2012 | 8:15 a.m.

mike mentor wrote:

"@Mark
Just having a little fun with the irony here. I am certainly not for banning anyone from the election process."

Oh I know. Should have put a smilie in there somewhere.

But academic experience and real world experience are not either or. I'd hate to have a master ironworker design a bridge, or a master meat cutter do cardiovascular surgery, even though they have considerable real world experience in building structures or cutting tissues.

Like most other things, balance is important, and individual ability.

Stephanie Proffer wrote:

"Does anyone have any ideas about how a new model could work or examples of more sustainable models used at other universities?"

Frank might be reacting to the word "sustainable", which has a liberal connotation in other contexts.

I suspect few of the titles offered by MU press are available as e-books, and this might be something to work on if they do keep the press open. Paper has a lot of advantages, but e-books are trendy, and a good "sustainable" business keeps up with trends.

DK

(Report Comment)
mike mentor June 13, 2012 | 9:45 a.m.

I would just like to throw this out once again. The university has to compete for revenue just like any other "business". A HuGE part of that marketing program is the athletic department. If students quit coming to Mizzou because we have no sports, any acedemic missions you may have will be moot.

And, as an added bonus, our little economy here gets a huge shot in the arm as well. Get your popcorn, cuz this football season is gonna be big business for many Columbians...

M-I-Z
S-E-C

(Report Comment)

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