UM Press considered at Faculty Council meeting with Wolfe, Deaton

Monday, August 6, 2012 | 6:11 p.m. CDT; updated 9:09 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, August 7, 2012

COLUMBIA — The executive committee of the MU Faculty Council met early Monday morning with University of Missouri System President Tim Wolfe and Chancellor Brady Deaton in a closed-door meeting to discuss issues surrounding the quality of the University of Missouri Press.

One of the main concerns of the executive committee was that the quality of the press remains the same as its predecessor or increases.

MU officials announced in July that a new press focusing on online publishing would replace the original University of Missouri Press. 

The press's reputation is based on the quality of the work it publishes, Nicole Monnier, academic affairs chair, said.

Monnier said one of the concerns about the quality arose because the press may end up as a teaching lab rather than a press staffed by professionals. Another concern was that quality may be affected with changes in management and press structure.

Wolfe said in the meeting that the quality of the press is the administration’s main concern as well, Monnier said. However, Monnier said the lingering question is how that quality will be measured.

With the press still in a transitional phase, the structure is unknown. Without knowing the structure, it is hard to say how this quality will be measured, Monnier said.

At the meeting, the council decided to create a committee to oversee the transition of the press. The committee will include MU faculty, faculty from the other system campuses, authors and other stakeholders, Harry Tyrer, faculty council chair, said. He said that having this advisory group will help ensure the quality of the press.

Two people, Richard Wallace and Deborah Noble-Triplett, have been appointed to handle the day-to-day transition process of the press, Tyrer said. They will also be responsible for creating the transition committee. However, it is still uncertain when the committee will be formed and who will be on it.

No timeline has been presented yet, but Tyrer expects the transition to be done within a year.

Supervising editor is Celia Darrough.

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Ellis Smith August 7, 2012 | 5:02 a.m.

Two comments:

1- The guy who said we are closing the press now says he's interested in the quality of whatever is going to be the new press. I guess that can be called progress.

2- This article says that faculty from UMKC, UMSL and MS&T will at some point be brought into this project. That represents a modicum of progress, but some of us still don't believe a "System" exists.

(Report Comment)
Rachel Brekhus August 7, 2012 | 7:30 a.m.

Just to be clear: the meeting reported above was not a meeting of the entire Faculty Council, but of seven members only, with President Wolfe and Chancellor Deaton. I am a member of the Faculty Council, and the FC as a group was neither informed of nor invited to this particular meeting. A note on the FC listserv on July 30 indicated that Mr. Wolfe wanted to meet with the FC, and one member responded to the list saying a meeting should be set up ASAP, before any committee was set up, but the remainder of the planning for the meeting must have been done off-list by a few who took that initiative and responded privately to Dr. Tryer, and once the date was set, no follow-up note was sent to the FC list.

Based on this article, my sense of the result of this meeting is that the faculty, either FC or the committee to be appointed by Richard Wallace and Deborah Noble-Triplett, will now be held responsible for the quality of the "new press," or lack of it - despite the fact that the very structure of the "new press" virtually ensures that there can be no quality, as measured by the standards of the Humanities disciplines whose work is to be published by the press - as evidenced, for example - by the fact that the authors of the Missouri Sesquicentennial Edition of the History of Missouri Series and the Dictionary of Missouri Biography have written to reclaim their licenses and rights.

The resolution passed by the *full* FC at the end of last month expressed that we wanted the closure of the "old press" delayed, pending the faculty involvement in that decision that should have been sought under principles of shared governance, but never was - not that we wished to be co-opted into legitimizing the administration-determined structure of the "new press."

(Report Comment)
Nicole Monnier August 7, 2012 | 8:34 a.m.

Rachel, a couple of clarifications: "the council" (FC/FC exec) did not decide to create a committee to oversee the transition: the creation of the committee was (apparently) already on the agenda for Richard Wallace and Deborah Nobel-Triplett, who have only just been appointed head of the "transition team" (at the meeting, we were told that Richard Wallace came into the position only as of last Friday).

Also, members of exec committee who attended the meeting pressed President Wolfe at several points for a moratorium / postponement of the current closure as expressed in the FC resolution. His response was that there was "no going back, only forward" (or words very close to that). While disappointing (to put it mildly), this is not surprising: it is the same position Wolfe expressed in his email to Janese Silvey of the Tribune prior to the Monday meeting (see Columbia Tribune, Aug. 3rd).

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith August 7, 2012 | 8:50 a.m.

Thank you for the information, Ms. Brekhus.

In plain English, it appears that somebody has "stepped in it" as regards the "press affair" and is trying to cover things over. I have recently contended in this newspaper that University of Missouri System is NOT indeed a system; now you're suggesting that communication is also lacking within one of the four campuses.

Is the "press affair" simply the tip of a far larger administrative iceberg? Faculty, students and alumni from all four campuses, and Missouri taxpayers in general, have a right to know.

(Report Comment)
Rachel Brekhus August 7, 2012 | 9:47 a.m.

Nicole Monnier - true, the faculty's involvement in the transition committee was a priority of the administrators at the meeting, not of the FC. Sorry I did not make that sufficiently clear.

I am glad to hear that the FC members present did press the President along the way and represent the issues raised by the FC's resolution, and it cannot have been an easy meeting for them. However, the result remains the same: the faculty representatives present ended up acquiescing to a process and an agenda that, as you point out, was pretty well known in advance to be fixed in the mind of Mr. Wolfe - rather than, say, walking out and refusing to be a part of it.

To be fair, during the late-July FC meeting, I do not think there was consensus on the desired role or lack of role of faculty in the future, MU-owned incarnation of the Press - the only consensus at that meeting was that the process leading up to the closure completely ignored people who should have been key players, including faculty, and especially the employees of the current (not future) press. My opinion that the press, if its professional staff is not rehired, has been irretrievably gutted and does not deserve the investment of a faculty who have had no part in decisions until now, is strictly my own, not FC's, though I believe some other faculty hold it as well.

Ellis Smith - are there larger communication issues between or among campuses? I do not feel competent to speak to that question.

(Report Comment)
Lois Huneycutt August 7, 2012 | 10:27 a.m.

This whole transition team is a bunch of nonsense from the outset. The Press was in the process of transitioning as per the recommendations of a 2008 task force; everything that has been mentioned as an advantage of the new model over the old (more digital/multi-media publication; incorporation of teaching with graduate interns involved, etc) was already bring done at the old Press, and done well. A "transition" would involve the excellent editorial team already in place. This was not a transition, it was a coup. And, it is a coup by people who have no expertise in the content areas where the old Press was strongest, no clear idea about how niche expertise works, no understanding of the process of peer review and professional editing, and not even the pretense of taking into account the expertise of those who do know these things. What emerged yesterday was a murky vision of some kind of measurable output that would involve a broader range of subjects or something. Rachel is right, it is clear that authors are jumping ship quickly, unwilling to trust their work to this slipshod entity. The historians who wrote requesting their rights back for the Dictionary of Missouri Biography yesterday are among the most eminent and respected in the state. This move should send a clear signal that this "transition team" is not qualified to run a University Press.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith August 7, 2012 | 10:34 a.m.

@ Ms. Brekhus:

I too do not feel competent to speak to the question (of larger communications issues at the University); but I'd profer a phrase, sometimes encountered in product liability litigation but applicable to other situations: Res ipsa loquitor. ["The thing speaks for itself."]

(Report Comment)
Rachel Brekhus August 7, 2012 | 4:13 p.m.

Missourian editors, thanks for correcting "Faculty Council" to "executive committee of the MU Faculty Council," which is an accurate representation of who was at the closed-door meeting. That's a reasonable subset of Faculty Council to have at such a meeting, but it certainly not the same thing as the full Faculty Council.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith August 8, 2012 | 5:52 a.m.

To Ms. Huneycutt & Ms. Brekhus:

Ladies, please note that in this morning's Missourian is an article stating that MU has sold a record number of football tickets. It's good to see people supporting important causes.

As for authors jumping ship, would anything else have been expected once it was announced the press would be closed?

(Report Comment)
Rachel Brekhus August 8, 2012 | 7:44 a.m.

Ellis - lol re: football tix - seriously! But: Tiger Town festivities had to be shut down for lack of sponsors, though admittedly mostly because the fundraising started too late (see the Vox story).

The flight of authors is happening in full awareness that there will be an entity calling itself the University of Missouri Press. It is happening now, and the authors are specifically citing the planned structure of the new press as a reason. Text of the letter:

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith August 8, 2012 | 10:26 a.m.

Ms. Brekhus:

I'm pleased you enjoyed a laugh at my post, but I'm certain you understand the difference between an intended joke and some serious sarcasm.

No doubt when those home football games take place Mr. Wolfe will be ensconced in a climate-controlled seating area, schmoozing major donors to MU's athletic programs. According to George Kennedy's calculus, Forsee and Wolfe come from similar backgrounds and should not be university presidents. Presidents Manual Pacheco and Elson Floyd also came from similar (academic) backgrounds; were they identical?

Would President Gary Forsee have closed the press? It's a moot point, but not necessarily and uninteresting one.

(Report Comment)
Mike Martin August 8, 2012 | 5:36 p.m.

What about a "digital" football team?

The e-Tigers. "Fight, Tiger, fight for e-Mizzou..."

Fans could play the game on laptops and smart phones and pads; watch it on big screens everywhere, with the same cool digital effects that have brought the Hulk to life in several recent movies; and we could compete with other digital teams as the trend starts moving around the nation, just like this digital University Press business.

Hey! There's e-Coach P! (with no $3 mil salary, but def. keep him away from any ATMs filled with digital dollars).

And e-Kony Ealy! And check out TJ e-Moe!

Dangerous parking along Stadium? No cars required!

There's the e-stadium and e-Tiger Town -- no sponsors required because it costs a fraction of what it would with real, actual people.

Like professors. And editors. And writers. And coaches. And players. (But why can't they be digitized too?)

Digital Coaches. A digital athletic department. Finally, something for all our video-game obsessed kids to aspire to on these brutally hot days, when actually going outside and throwing a ball around doesn't hold a candle to a good game of Minecraft.

"I'm an e-Hero, Mom! I'm in the e-SEC!"

(Sorry for the e-blasphemy, but Mizzou is tossing away a core value -- the Press -- for chump change. And when the core value is gone, it's gone).

(Report Comment)

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