In a victory for critics of the reinvention of the University of Missouri press, university president Timothy Wolfe issued a press release August 28, announcing a call for nominations to create an advisory committee to guide the press as responsibility for its operations is transferred from the University of Missouri system to the main campus at Columbia. The transfer of responsibility is effective immediately. The press release was issued after three top officials at the university met Tuesday morning with the nine employees at the press.
The advisory committee is to consist of representatives from the faculties of the four universities in the state’s system, students, representatives from outside the university with expertise in scholarly publishing, a representative from the press committee, and authors. The advisory committee will work with the transition team, which consists of four top officials at the university, including president Wolfe.
Wolfe announced that the advisory committee will be guided by the following principles: ensuring that the press continues to publish “important literary, scholarly, peer-reviewed” books; continues to publish books in print format while expanding its digital presence; continues to pursue a “high, quality, rigorous” acquisitions process; focuses on relationships with its authors; and that the press be integrated into the academic and research missions of the university.
“My goal is to develop a press that is vibrant and adaptive,” Wolfe declared in the prepared statement, “I realize that change is often difficult. I have been listening to the community and others, and make every assurance that university administration is working to create the kind of press the academic community and those that it serves can be proud.”
“The press will continue to publish hard-copy books while adding a more broad-based and a longer-term approach to scholarly publishing while preserving the identity of the original press," added Brady Deaton, chancellor of the Columbia campus. Deaton is a member of the press transition team.
Dwight Browne will continue to serve as interim director of the press, a position he held for three years. He replaces Speer Morgan, editor of the Missouri Review, who was named the press’ new director in July. Morgan will still, university officials say, play a "leadership role" in the press’s operations, with the Missouri Review staff working alongside that of the press. Browne, who is another member of the press transition team, will work with the advisory committee to hire a new editor-in-chief with teaching responsibilities to replace Clair Willcox, who was laid off this summer. The remaining nine staff members have been invited to stay on in their current positions. At least one employee, John Brenner, an acquisitions editor, turned down the offer made today to stay at the press. He announced on Facebook that he is honoring a commitment to join the State Historical Society of Missouri on Sept. 10. His last day at the press is Sept. 7.
Reactions to the announcement were not as positive as university officials might hope, although there was some jubilation among the 2,808 members of the Facebook page, "Save the University of Missouri Press." Tom Quirk, who resigned as editor of the press's Mark Twain and His Circle series yesterday, considered that the university’s announcement “sounds like a measure to plug a dike, especially with authors threatening lawsuits against the university." And in an e-mail sent to PW, Bruce Joshua Miller, an independent sales rep whose list includes the University of Missouri Press, who has been a leader in the opposition to the proposed changes, wrote that the press release “confirms what we already knew: there was never any reason to kill the press.” Miller added that the concessions made by university officials in today’s announcement aren’t enough for him.
"Willcox and other laid off staff members must be rehired,” Miller wrote, “Deaton claims they will publish ‘even more scholarly books;’ no one is better suited to this task than Clair Willcox."
UPDATE: Mary Banken, a University of Missouri representative, stated Wednesday that contrary to previous statements made to PW and other media, Speer Morgan will not be involved in the operations or management of the University of Missouri Press. Morgan, who is editor-in-chief of the Missouri Review, will remain in that position. He also will "have a leadership role in our Media of the Future program, which is focused on the impacts of rapidly changing technology on the ways in which we share and preserve information." In a phone interview, Banken confirmed that the University of Missouri Press will be a part of the Media of the Future program.