Speer Morgan, the new director of the newly-resuscitated University of Missouri Press, insists that the university’s decision to first, defund the press, and subsequently, to reinvent it, were not decisions hastily made, but, rather, part of a long-term strategy to make the press “part of the learning function of the university.” University officials, Morgan says, have been discussing for years how to “reinvigorate” the press and make it “more relevant to the university” by better utilizing resources available on campus, like the English department, the journalism school, and the creative writing program.
“It’s not just money,” Morgan told PW, referring to the university’s decision to withhold the $400,000 previously allocated to the press. “It’s the teaching function, the learning function, the on-campus function. It’s the logic of the press.”
On Monday, the University of Missouri announced that the press will move onto the main campus in Columbia, where a mix of four paid professionals and five graduate student interns will produce and market 20-25 titles each year, with, Morgan says, assistance from the five Missouri Review employees. Freelance help will be solicited as needed, and peer reviews of scholarly manuscripts will be conducted by committees consisting of professors from all four campuses of the University of Missouri system. These developments are a “natural” and “organic” result of the university’s efforts to make the press more viable, Morgan told PW in a telephone interview. He declined to respond on the record to criticisms leveled by some observers that inexperienced and underpaid graduate students will shoulder much of the day-to-day operations of the press.
The press’s current staff was “somewhat consulted” about the changes proposed, and were “aware of the situation for some time,” Morgan said, contending that the changes at the University of Missouri Press are part of a larger trend in scholarly publishing.
"There's a lot of reorganization and repositioning in the university press world, a lot of experimentation going on now with management and reporting systems. University presses are trying to cut their losses," he noted, "University presses in general have not been able to find ways to use campus resources, and they end up being beleaguered, because of the difficulty in publishing in general."
As for the University of Missouri Press, university officials contacted all four campuses in their quest to integrate the press into the university community. “Columbia was the only campus to express interest in housing the press,” Morgan explained, disclosing that the flagship campus at Mizzou will now subsidize the press’s operations. According to Morgan, enough funds will be allocated to “get us going,” although a full budget has not yet been set.
“They don’t expect us to operate in the black,” he said, “But we will have the necessary resources to make the transition.”
Morgan will report to the dean of the school of arts & sciences, who will be assisted by an advisory board, consisting of the dean of the journalism school, the head of the university library, a representative from the English department, and "possibly" representatives from other schools on campus.
While Morgan admits that he does not have experience in book publishing, he contends that this is not an obstacle, as he is both a published author and has been the editor of the Missouri Review, which publishes quarterly, for the past 35 years.
“I have experience with authors, estates. I've done a considerable amount of primary research, I have experience with research libraries,” he says, “We have good connections with New York City publishers, agent and editorial contacts. We’re not just some literary magazine that publishes only contemporary poetry or whatever.”
Morgan also expects to hire an experienced staff, beginning with a national search for an editor-in-chief. While the press hopes to publish 20-25 titles each year, in both print and electronic formats, the first year or two will be "a push," Morgan says, with some reissues, as the new staff gets up to speed.
“The new editor will do the real work,” Morgan said, “I’m just the person trying to coordinate this and make it happen.”
The Chicago Distribution Center will continue to distribute University of Missouri Press books.