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Columbia Missourian

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

By Joseph Carroll
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.