After news broke last week that the University of Akron was shutting down its university press amid budget cuts, the school claimed the press would in fact continue, if in a leaner form. Now, despite the university's hiring of an interim director for the press, many are saying it's not enough.
William Sherman, provost of the University of Akron, said in an announcement Tuesday afternoon that UA associate professor of English Jon Miller will serve as "transitional director" of the press. Sherman will be tasked, in part, with folding the press into the university libraries division.
The announcement came less than 24 hours before a protest was scheduled on campus to denounce the de-funding of the press. The press’ director, Thomas Bacher, along with two other full-time employees, were laid off last month.
Miller will be working with UA libraries division dean Phyllis O’Connor, and Bacher, on the transition. Bacher is obliged to stay involved until his contract expires in January. The trio will, according to the announcement, "manage the current activities of the UA Press (acquisitions, editing, marketing, distribution, etc.) and recommend a staffing and operational plan to meet obligations for previously published and currently contracted publications."
In addition to having published two books with UA Press, Miller has served on the UA faculty senate's library committee and, according to Sherman, "has significant experience as a scholarly editor of journals, an encyclopedia, and critical editions."
Despite Miller's hiring, many associated with the press are unsatisfied with how the university is handling the situation. Kevin Kern, a member of the UA Press editorial board, told PW that Sherman’s statement "does nothing tangible to address the Board's commitment to preserving the press as an ongoing, legitimate academic publisher.” Kern emphasized that the university has not addressed the issue of permanent funding, the hiring of a permanent director, or the hiring of a minimum staff. (The Association of American University Presses requires all of its members to have at least three employees.)
UA Press authors are also uneasy. Several authors told PW that UA officials have not responded to repeated requests for information on the status of the press. Oliver de la Paz said he has contacted UA president Scott Scarborough, and the board of trustees three times in the past two weeks with no response. Some UA Press authors disclosed that they are now consulting with attorneys about their contracts with UA.
“I have no confidence in this plan of action, and many of us in this situation are considering asking for the rights to our books back," said Philip J. Metres, author of the forthcoming UA Press book Pictures at an Exhibition, which won the 2014 Akron Poetry Prize. Metres said his confidence in the press will not be restored until its entire staff is reinstated.
An online petition launched in late July by John Repp, a scholar affiliated with the University of Pennsylvania, demanding that the UA president restore funding to the press has more than 1,500 signatures to date, and a Facebook page dedicated to saving the press, launched at the same time by UA professor John Huss, has more than 2,000 members. A protest organized by UA employees, being promoted with the tag line, “Brains Before Beans,” is scheduled to take place outside the office of the Board of Trustees in UA’s student union building at 9 a.m. on August 12.