COLUMBIA — A shift in control of the University of Missouri Press from the University of Missouri System to MU is opening the door for changes so the press can continue operating and maintain its commitment to scholarly publication.
Dwight Browne, the interim director of the press, now reports to MU Provost Brian Foster. The change took effect Tuesday. Foster said MU will create a Press Advisory Committee, intended to guide the press through a transition period and search for its new editor-in-chief.
MU sent letters to leaders throughout the UM System asking for nominations for the committee. The heads of the faculty councils for the four campuses, the president of the Missouri Student Association and the head of the Graduate Professional Council all received letters, among others.
"I think (the committee) needs to be people who have a lot of experience publishing books and have a lot of editorial experience," said Lois Huneycutt, an MU associate professor of history.
Nominations must be received by Sept. 4, when a group of administrators, including UM System President Tim Wolfe, MU Chancellor Brady Deaton, MU Chancellor Emeritus Richard Wallace, UM System Assistant Vice President Deborah Noble-Triplett and Browne, will choose members for the committee. At least one member of the committee will be a student.
Foster said the committee will examine long-term goals for the press, adjust contracts and look for new staff members. The committee will also discuss incorporating students into the press as graduate students and interns. He said the committee will be doing research on scholarly communication and helping the press adapt to the digital world, just like newspapers and magazines.
"The press isn't going to be changing in any dramatic way in the foreseeable future," Foster said. "It's going to be doing what presses do."
Clair Willcox*, former editor-in-chief of the press, was laid off in July. One duty of the advisory committee is to hire a new editor-in-chief. The editor-in-chief will also serve in a faculty role, and will need a balance of academic credentials and experience in the publishing world, Foster said.
"The top person that I want nominated is Clair Willcox. I can't think of anyone that has as much expertise and experience," Huneycutt said.
Huneycutt said Willcox's work with authors might keep them from ending their relationship with the press.
The executive director of the MU News Bureau, Mary Jo Banken, said the nine remaining staff members were asked to stay but two had already taken other jobs.
John Brenner posted on the "Save the University of Missouri Press" Facebook page that he was asked to stay in his position as acquisitions editor but declined. According to the post, he will begin work at the State Historical Society of Missouri on Sept. 10.
A string of editors, including Bill Foley, Roger Launius and Tom Quirk, have resigned from their positions and distanced themselves from the new press.
Quirk, editor of the Mark Twain and His Circle series, resigned from his position Monday. He will continue the series at another press, according to a resignation letter posted on the Facebook page.
"I am left merely with the bitter taste of humiliation," Quirk said in the letter.
John Bullion is one of more than 50 authors asking the press for the copyrights to their work back. He said the reputation of the press has been damaged and he no longer wants to work with it.
"Authors, both experienced and young scholars and the rest, they aren't going to be inclined to submit manuscripts to this place. You just can't reverse that overnight," Bullion said.
Whether authors are able to get those rights transferred depends on their contracts, but Banken said the press would like to continue work with authors individually.
"The press intends to keep their commitment to all authors to publish their books and ask them to continue to work with us," she said.
Foster said the committee will immediately begin communicating with authors about the future of the press.
**Speer Morgan, editor of The Missouri Review, will not be involved in the operation or management of the press, Banken said. Morgan will have a leadership role in MU's Media of the Future Program, which is focused on the effects of rapidly changing technology on the ways in which information is shared and preserved.
Supervising editor is Jacob Kirn.