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 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.
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.