Fired University of Missouri Press editor Clair Willcox IS the issue although the MU administration has yet to recognize reality. The financial success of the press depends on the more than 40 authors still demanding the rights to their books reversing their decision. The Save the UM Press Coalition has made Willcox’s reinstatement its prime condition as have most of the authors.
Administrators who first eliminated the press now have reversed that decision. Legitimacy has to be reestablished with both the authors who contribute their manuscripts to the UM Press as well as faculty and other interested parties who oppose the action for a number of reasons. Bringing the sacked editor back sends the clearest message to the authors, who are the major assets of the press, that professionalism in publishing and marketing will be maintained. It also will send a message to the faculty that they will be consulted and involved in academic decision making.
I can attest to Willcox’s professionalism having served for three years as a faculty member overseeing the press and as chair of the faculty oversight committee in my final year. His interactions with our committee, then representing all four campuses, were sensitively authoritative. He had a deep knowledge of each manuscript as well as the ability to clearly explain the pluses and minuses of each reviewer. These evaluations include the academic quality, its importance to Missouri when that is relevant, and its marketability. Any editor must establish a personal, professional relationship with the authors that enhance the probability that the manuscript will be submitted to the press. These are attributes that necessitate appropriate training, experience and time. Willcox meets these criteria.
A new editor beginning with the fiasco of ending the Press and firing all its employees would be severely handicapped. Can the fired employees be hired back? Could he or she bring back the over 40 authors who asked that their publications or manuscripts be withdrawn from the press? These are the crucial assets of the press. Without a critical number of publications, a press cannot continue. Finally, restoring the experienced and successful editor also recognizes that the faculty is a significant part of the decision-making process. Rehiring Willcox is not simply a personnel decision; it is an essential part of restoring the legitimacy of all concerned.
Paul Wallace is a professor emeritus of political science at MU and a former member of the faculty oversight committee for the UM Press. Questions? Contact Opinion editor Elizabeth Conner.