LETTER: University of Missouri Press closing is betrayal

Monday, June 11, 2012 | 7:06 p.m. CDT; updated 9:43 p.m. CDT, Monday, June 11, 2012

When my son Mike called me yesterday morning about the University of Missouri-Columbia’s decision to close down the University of Missouri Press in July, he sounded betrayed. An MU graduate, a student of history and the arts, he understands what such a closing means. In many ways it sells out the fundamental principles of university and of learning itself.

The last time I remember Mike sounding this way was when MU left the Big Eight Conference. That was another kind of betrayal — of fans and students — and of a different kind of tradition. Of course, that was a money deal much larger than the press deficit. No matter the differences, it’s apparent that this new business leadership, found so often in the administrative circles of institutions of higher learning these days, has a different set of values than used to be the case. Too many of these guys will not respond to the notion of keeping the faith, to protecting educational values or to other human considerations.

It seems only money matters to them, balancing the budget in the easiest way, without regard to intellectual importance or loss. Betrayal has become almost commonplace. It’s important to examine how widespread it has become.

The closing of the University of Missouri Press betrays the notion of reason. It recommends that football matters more to the life of a university than the production of learning. It betrays the faculty of the university by denying the value of its intellectual contributions and closing down the dissemination of years of work.  What follows, inevitably, is the betrayal of the future by denying those to come the learning and understanding that is the product of a university press. How, one might ask, will the university that dumps a press with a distinguished history be viewed by academics elsewhere? Will they think of it as a place to do research? Will they recommend it to their students? Will current students feel betrayed, enough to head elsewhere for graduate work?

Unfortunately, such a list of questions and betrayals can go on almost indefinitely.  The decision of the moment changes our understanding of the past and the possibilities of the future.

This new university is ready to discard the great traditions that have emerged over centuries and resulted in an enduring body of knowledge and systematic support of the arts and sciences. By so doing, it relinquishes its power and stature. It does not lead but follows the new models of monetary capitalism, hardly the basis for intellectual inquiry. Such are the results of the failure to make distinctions. Living in the mindless moment leads few anywhere, certainly not to the wisdom of the past or to the understanding of the future.

I have been connected to the university for almost 51 years, as a faculty member and as an active retiree. My present feelings of sorrow and anger derive from my disappointment at the current drift of the university away from a serious devotion to creating and spreading knowledge. Is it hyperbole to react this way when, at the end of spring, we learn that the University of Missouri Press will disappear in early summer? What kind of shifty game is this? If I feel sorrow and anger, what do the members of the press feel? Shall I use the word “betrayed” again? What about those who depend on scholars — those artists and researchers who know that we are all connected in deeper ways — beyond accounting and dollar manipulation within a bureaucratic shell? The university is not meant to be a popular creator of short-term income.

This is a good time for us to re-evaulate university purposes. If not, we may soon witness threats to other profoundly important intellectual and artistic activities. We cannot say, “Copernicus, thou shall not look at the sun. It’s too expensive.” Nor can we insist that we must let the planet go and save our balances.  We can be practical without poisoning the spring.

Questions? Contact news editor Laura Johnston.

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Ellis Smith June 11, 2012 | 10:41 p.m.

AAUP, Association of American University Presses, consists of more than 130 members and has a web site (which anyone can word search).

Here is a list of a few recognizable members:

University of Alabama Press*
University of Arkansas Press*
Baylor University Press
University of Georgia Press*
University Press of Kentucky*
Louisiana State University Press*
University Press of Mississippi*
University of Nebraska Press
University of Oklahoma Press
University of Iowa Press
University of South Carolina Press*
University of Tennessee Press*
University of Texas Press
Texas A&M Press*
Vanderbilt University Press*

*-Indicates a university in the SEC Athletic Conference.

So, University of Missouri won't have a press but University of Arkansas has one. Aren't "hillbillies" supposed to be located on the south side of the Missouri-Arkansas border?

Are all of these presses deeply in the red, or even in the red? You can't get that information from the AAUP wed site, but it's probably safe to assume that some at least break even.

Maybe there are American universities where people manage things.

(Report Comment)
Louis Schneebaum June 11, 2012 | 11:02 p.m.

I read a story a while back about the hours at Ellis Library and how they'd like to be open more, but that it would cost something on the order of an extra 20 grand a year. Funny. You can't get a bit to eat here, the library's closed and we don't have a press. It's Tiger Town baby, if it doesn't make money, it doesn't have legs!

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith June 12, 2012 | 5:58 a.m.

How long would it take to raise $20K for one of MU's NCAA Division I athletic programs? Should we use nanoseconds as our unit of time?

For years Ellis Library has been a source of pride at our "System's" "flagship campus," but apparently it too is feeling a funding pinch. (Having some idiot try to burn it down wasn't particularly helpful).

An internationally acclaimed library located in Missouri is privately funded: Linda Hall Library of Science, Engineering & Technology, founded 1946. Its users are world wide. One of my former employers was a subscriber.

It's located in Kansas City.

(Report Comment)
mike mentor June 12, 2012 | 8:10 a.m.

I just read Dan's letter and heard his message without touching a piece of paper.

Just sayin'

(Report Comment)
Ned Stuckey-French June 12, 2012 | 8:50 a.m.

Re Mike Mentor's statement, no one is arguing that the UM Press should not move into the digital age. And in fact, it is. The press published my book last year in both print and electronic formats. The press actively markets its books using a blog, Facebook, electronic coupons, etc. But, the overwhelming majority (about 80%) of the cost of producing a scholarly book comes not in printing (whether digitally or between covers) but in acquiring, developing, peer-reviewing, copyediting, indexing,proofreading,and overhead, such as lights, copiers, office space, heating, air conditioning, mortgage, etc. Sales of eBooks still account for only about 5-10% of total sales for university presses.

(Report Comment)
Louis Schneebaum June 12, 2012 | 11:37 a.m.

I'm told that monies for Mizzou academic programs and sports programs are totally separate from one another. That leaves me asking myself why they don't just go ahead and make the Tigers a private sports team, and run the school with the money that they have to do it with...

(Report Comment)
David Sautner June 12, 2012 | 12:41 p.m.

If someone could provide a list of books produced by way of the University of Missouri - Columbia press that would be a big help in discouraging its closure.
Closing down the University press would privatize publishing. Cool, I always thought the university favored fascism over democracy. They might as well just sell the land grant and turn the entire university over to the private sector. Everyone knows that public universities suck.

(Report Comment)
Louis Schneebaum June 12, 2012 | 4:03 p.m.

I'll bet David Sautner got his education at a really nice private college -- it's easy to tell that, because he's obviously very intelligent...

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking June 12, 2012 | 4:28 p.m.

David Sautner wrote:

"If someone could provide a list of books produced by way of the University of Missouri - Columbia press that would be a big help in discouraging its closure"

Here you go:


(Report Comment)
Richard Saunders June 12, 2012 | 5:50 p.m.

I'm fascinated by all the intellectuals who cannot bother to realize we live in a world of scarcity, let alone ponder the ramifications of it.

It is this lack of realistic thinking that engenders the disasters that we face as we approach the next Dark Ages (Thanks to the destruction of the world's economies, due to the deliberate actions of criminal cartels calling themselves central banks.)

Ignoring monetary problems by mischaracterizing them as greed only makes it all worse. Meanwhile, the only greed I see is everyone who demands that other people pay their way in life, because for some unknown reason, we "owe" them.

Simply put, if a tenth of the population understood why (and how) using IOU's as money is an evil system of theft (along with the fractional reserve scam), there wouldn't be these kinds of problems requiring constant cuts in the first place. As all this system does is to transfer wealth from Main St. to Wall St.

But guess what? That's our future. What our future was supposed to be? Well, it's hard to tell, as we've consumed it already. (with sixteen trillion in debt on books, and another hundred in other areas where promises to spend have been made.)

The truly sad part is that we've not yet begun unwinding this debt monster, but are building upon it's back, increasing the load each and every day. Remember the TARP plan from back in 2008, which "saved" Wall St.? It just so happens that it is the mechanism that has targeted and trapped the last independent wealth pool of any community, small, independent banks.

Just like I told people who complained when Anheuser-Busch was sold to foreign interests, I say the same to you.

"Banksters stole your press!"

(Report Comment)
David Sautner June 12, 2012 | 8:45 p.m.

The university press publishes literary works on history and the liberal arts. I guess Wolfe is assuming that those sorts of works don't make the bottom line. If only he knew that a mere 60% of Business School graduates got jobs this year after graduation, and that's less than the people who graduated with liberal arts degrees. BTW, I got my liberal arts degree from UMC. ;)

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith June 13, 2012 | 6:06 a.m.

One might have the impression that university presses only publish highly esoteric books that wouldn't be of interest to most readers. Some books published are highly readable and entertaining.

University of Nebraska Press (aka Bison Press), University of Oklahoma Press, University of New Mexico Press and Texas A&M Press have at various times published accounts of the American Wild West that are very readable and entertaining; further, the books have been published in paperback, which makes them affordable.

What ELSE is there within University of Missouri System that doesn't meet the bottom line? (Well, maybe "bottom line" could use some definition.)

(Report Comment)

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