The Struggle to Save the University of Missouri Press

When I last wrote about the proposed closure of the University of Missouri Press on June 4, the story had recently broken and I had little, and as it turns out incomplete, information. My central point in that post was simply that the closing of a flagship university’s press, were it actually to happen, would mark a paradigm shift in American universities. However skeptical one might be about academic scholarship as the best way of disseminating knowledge, that is our current system; most importantly, it is the centerpiece of our current reward system, the means by which we assess candidates for tenure and promotion. And the fact is that university presses publish that scholarship: the fewer university presses, the more challenging the tenure system becomes. Additionally, the presses of land-grant universities, such as Missouri’s, have come to assume the role of repositories of the legacies of their states, in the form of the collected works of the states’ important authors. Should universities decide, in these straitened economic times, that university presses are too costly, it’s difficult to imagine what institutions would take over that role.

Hence my conclusion that the proposed closure of the University of Missouri’s press was a move of profound significance. When I first wrote about it, I could find little evidence of protest—I should have waited. The opposition to the closure is now loud and clear. An NPR interview with Bruce Joshua Miller, a publisher’s representative who has long worked with the press, provides context for both the proposed closure and for the momentum of the resistance. He’s interviewed by correspondent Lynn Neary:

LYNN NEARY: It was a miserable Memorial Day weekend for Bruce Joshua Miller. The publishers’ representative who has worked with the University of Missouri Press for 20 years had just learned that the small publishing house had lost its $400,000 subsidy from the university and would have to shut down. He was trying to figure out what he could do to support the press.

BRUCE JOSHUA MILLER: So I started a Facebook page and had a few people liked it. And, you know, it had 12 people, and I was excited because I had 28 people, and it just started to kind of mushroom from there.

That was Memorial Day. Yesterday I became the 2,679th person to “like” Save the University of Missouri Press Facebook page. The protest doesn’t stop with the Facebook page. University president Tim Wolfe, whose background is exclusively corporate, has come under fire from other directions as well. The editors of the collected works of Langston Hughes, published by the press, wrote an open letter to Wolfe protesting the the closure, and as many as 29 authors of books published by the press have demanded the return of their publication rights, which would presumably fall into limbo were the press to close.

I think it’s accurate to say that Wolfe and the university administration has walked back its position to close the press absolutely—in light of the intensity of the opposition—but their solution, a hybrid university press of sorts, is imperfect to say the least. More on that next time.

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