The University of Missouri has learned that pens -- along with an ongoing and relentless social media campaign waged by a loose coalition of authors and a commission publishers' rep -- are indeed mightier than the sword. Little more than two months after editor-in-chief Clair Willcox was laid off as part of the press’ reorganization announced by university officials on May 24, he has been rehired as editor-in-chief and associate director of the press. Willcox will report to the university provost Brian Foster; Dwight Browne, the interim director of the press for the past three years, is retiring. Willcox returned to his office Friday morning, and went to work, calling authors.
His duties will include managing the editorial department, serving as acquisitions editor, and planning and promoting the book publishing program, as he did previously. His responsibilities also now include "forging relationships with university faculty programs, departments, and schools" to "strengthen the press' position as an essential and integral component of university research and scholarships."
Willox’s layoff, which occurred in the aftermath of University of Missouri president Timothy Wolfe’s decision to initially, close the press, and, subsequently, to pare it down and revamp it into a teaching tool staffed by a combination of paid professionals and student interns, was opposed by many, including almost 3,000 people who “liked” the “Save the University of Missouri Press’ Facebook page. An online petition garnered more than 5,300 names. The Facebook page and petition were launched this summer by commission rep Bruce Joshua Miller of Trade Book Marketing in Chicago and Ned Stuckey-French, an author with the press who is also a professor at Florida State University. The two –along with other interested parties -- kept the pressure on the university even after concessions were made by the university at the end of August, which included reinstating all the laid-off employees except for Willcox. Updates were posted on Facebook regularly, and a rally was held on campus at the beginning of the fall semester.
For months, the university has been dogged by critics' angry responses to the changes made at the press. Authors demanded that the rights to their books revert to them; scholars who served as editors of series published by the press resigned. Approximately 50 authors who’ve been published by the press called upon the university to reinstate Willcox as editor-in-chief, with letters to the university as well as to local and regional media. Critics of the changes proposed at the press included Donald Spivey, the author of If You Were Only White: The Life of Leroy “Satchell” Paige (University of Missouri Press, May), who threatened in a letter to Wolfe that was posted on Facebook to file a lawsuit if subsidiary publishing rights didn’t revert to him by October 8.
"We're very excited to have Clair returning to the Press as we move forward with [the] transition," Foster declared in a prepared statement emailed to PW. He will provide continuity and help maintain the foundation that the press has built throughout its history."
The University of Missouri Press, which was founded in 1958, publishes about 30 titles each year and has about 2,000 titles in print. Willcox has been with the press for almost a quarter of a century.