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LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Closing of press product of the wrong model for university

Wednesday, June 6, 2012 | 6:00 a.m. CDT

An open letter to University of Missouri System President Tim Wolfe:

I served two terms on the faculty review board at the University of Missouri Press. Closing the press sends a signal that the University of Missouri no longer wishes to make a claim to valuing scholarship.

In policy decisions on my own campus and in the wider University of Missouri System, I see two contrasting models of the university at work. In one model, the university is a seat of learning, dedicated to sustaining higher culture in the state. In this model, students participate in the community of minds created within the university. In the other model, the university is a factory designed to produce degrees. The students are customers purchasing those degrees. The citizens of Missouri are shareholders of the company. In this model, the aim of the university is to turn a profit in the short term.

The decision to close the press looks like a product of this latter model. Even in business terms, I think the model unwise. The goal of short-term profits runs counter to profit in the longer term: Sustaining a cultural climate that is inviting to educated people — the kind of people who create industries and technologies. Those people, vital to the economic health of the state, do not wish their children to grow up in a cultural backwater. They would look down on a university that has a football team but no university press.

Every university president has a legacy. Closing the university press would likely stand out as historically the single most significant decision that you, as president, will have made. Inevitably, in the minds of most people, that decision will be closely associated with the idea that you are a businessman with no background in research. People will almost necessarily suppose that you have an impoverished understanding of the mission of a university. They might well suspect that you failed to understand the magnitude of this one decision. They might infer that it was a blunder attributable to a failure of imagination. I think that would be the right conclusion to draw.

Closing the press will do irreparable harm to the cultural climate of Missouri. Please don’t do this.

Joseph Carroll is a curators professor in the English Department at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.


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Comments

Corl Leach June 6, 2012 | 1:38 p.m.

Dr. Joseph Carroll (like Joan Frank and Robert Root in earlier letters to the Missourian) admonishes President Wolfe for being myopic and abandoning the academic mission of the University in favor of fiscal concerns. They lay out doomsday scenarios touting the destruction of civilization and certain implosion of cultural values if the University Press ceases to operate. I acknowledge their passion but their actions demonstrate a divergent reality.

Dr. Carroll wrote his first book while employed by the University of California. Logically, it was published by the University of California Press.

Since his appointment at UMSL in 1985 he authored five more books. Only once (1995) was the University of Missouri Press suitable to be his publisher. This coming even though he "served two terms on the faculty review board at the University of Missouri Press."

Carroll's actions mimic the abandonment of the Press by Joan Frank -- one and done. Both Carroll and Frank tried the Press then moved on, often to commercial printers -- further rejection of the institutional Press model which they claim to hold in absolute high esteem.

Ironically, many of Carroll's works concern the topic of Darwinism. In the battle of printing entities, "survival of the fittest" applies to the University Press as well.

View Dr. Carroll's works and their publishers at: http://www.umsl.edu/~carrolljc/ (just click on the "Curriculum Vitae" link.)

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