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WHAT OTHERS SAY: University of Missouri Press fails when it comes to academics vs. athletics

Monday, June 25, 2012 | 2:50 p.m. CDT; updated 1:40 p.m. CDT, Monday, August 20, 2012

Why does it often seem to come down to academics vs. athletics?

To scholars vs. squads?

To validity vs. victory?

And it's not just that way in universities, although in this case that's what we're talking about.

Specifically, regarding the University of Missouri, it may be that a glib headline in The Nation — "Score So Far at the University of Missouri: Books 0, Football Coach $2.7 Million" — doesn't make much work for the imagination.

This begs the question: Why can't the University of Missouri System's new president, Timothy Wolfe, come up with $400,000 a year to save the University of Missouri Press? If it can't come out of next year's tight $2.7 billion budget, can he appeal to alumni? The business community? Supporters who have signed protest petitions (but not checks)? Why give up so quickly?

The amount needed to keep the press open is less than the $650,000 raise given to Missouri football Coach Gary Pinkel in 2010. True, the athletic department is self-funding. The football operation pays for itself and underwrites much of the rest of the athletic department. But Pinkel vs. the Press is a story about priorities.

Mr. Wolfe, 53, is a businessman, as was his predecessor, Gary Forsee, who served as president of the UM System from 2007 to 2011. Mr. Wolfe is a former software company executive and a 1980 MU grad.

Unlike football, the university press doesn't make millions, generate headlines, show up on TV every week or pay for itself. It's easy to understand why a bottom-line businessman might want to whack it.

A university president who came up through the academic ranks might have a different outlook.

A scholar would recognize the value of a significant literary arm that has published "an impressive catalogue" of offerings, according to "Inside Higher Ed," a daily online publication focusing on college and university topics.

The 54-year history of the press includes the publication of some 2,000 titles, including "The Collected Works of Langston Hughes," "The Complete Sermons of Ralph Waldo Emerson," a biography of Stan Musial, the "Mark Twain and his Circle" series and the recent release "On Soldiers and Statesmen" by John S.D. Eisenhower, son of the late President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Dwight Browne, interim director of the press, said Thursday that he was caught unaware by Mr. Wolfe's decision. He confirmed that he had not spoken to Mr. Wolfe before Mr. Wolfe and the UM System Board of Curators made the decision last month to stop the press.

Mr. Browne said that he and others in the press operation had been working steadily to pare back expenses and were on track this year to reduce the operating deficit to less than last year's $30,000. The deficit was on top of the $400,000 university budget for the operation.

Back to sports: This move leaves MU as the sole educational system in the Southeastern Conference (Missouri's new athletic conference) without a university press. That's embarrassing.

Perhaps the book lovers who toil in the university's press operation missed the boat when they didn't glom onto the latest in literary lunacy. We can see it now: "Huck Finn: Vampire Hunter."

Copyright St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Reprinted with permission. Questions? Contact news editor Laura Johnston.


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Comments

Ellis Smith June 25, 2012 | 6:42 p.m.

There's an old saying in the United States Army, sometimes rendered in jest and sometimes rendered in all seriousness:

"Who do I need to talk to in order to get out of this #@$&* outfit?"

The day may come when students, faculty and alumni of UMKC, UMSL and MS&T start asking who they need to talk to (Missouri Legislature?) to get out of this bad joke called a university system.

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