Wayne State University leaders continue to try to contain the negative public relations fallout from the February 7 firings of three senior Wayne State University Press employees –- including the editor-in-chief -- and the subsequent resignation of a fourth senior employee. On Monday, WSU’s director of communications Matthew Lockwood confirmed to PW' that WSUP interim director Tara Reeser is working offsite, and then will leave the university entirely at the end of the month.
This move comes only days after WSU president M. Roy Wilson announced on Friday that WSU’s chief of staff, Michael Wright, who is also the university’s v-p of marketing and communications, is assuming oversight for WSUP’s operations and that interim director Reeser would report directly to him. Wright, who previously has worked for General Motors, Ford, and the Leo Burnett advertising agency has no publishing experience.
Wright took over this responsibility from Jon Cawthorne, the dean of WSU’s library system; many insiders who have spoken to PW since the firings occurred claimed that he spearheaded it, as the press is under library control. Several editorial board members informed PW that Cawthorne met with them last week and during a contentious discussion, refused to explain to them the rationale behind the firings or a plan for the press moving forward. There are 17 WSU faculty members on WSUP’s editorial board.
In his Friday letter, Wilson affirmed the university’s commitment to the mission of the press, and promised to “position and strengthen WSUP for the future.” The university, Wilson wrote, has "already begun the search process" to replace Annie Martin as editor-in-chief, as well as editorial, design and production editor Kristin Harpster and marketing and sales manager Emily Nowak -- and presumably, senior production editor Carrie Downes Teefey, whose last day at WSUP will be this Friday.
In the meantime, Wilson disclosed in his letter, WSU will hire contract employees to fulfill its contractual obligations as the press will no longer have as of February 21 editorial, production, or design staff. WSUP is releasing 22 frontlist titles this spring; the fall frontlist has not yet been announced. (It was supposed to have been announced on Februrary1, according to Jennifer McManus, the attorney for the three fired employees.)
As for WSUP authors, they have been speaking up since the firings made the news. More than 80 authors and others who have worked with the press or been affiliated with it in some way have signed a statement that condemns the firings and demands the employees’ immediate reinstatement. Two former WSUP directors, Jane Ferreyra and Arthur Evans, are among the letter’s 83 co-signers.
UPDATE (2/18): Kathy Wildfong, who served as WSUP interim director for two years (2017-2019) has been re-appointed interim director, replacing Reeser while the university re-opens its search for a permanent director. Wildfong assumed her new duties today while Reeser continues to work offsite until her resignation is official at the end of this month.
PW has been informed that Teefey rescinded today her Feb. 9 resignation as senior production editor and will remain in that position, due to the transfer of oversight of the press from the WSU library system to the university's chief of staff, as well as the resignation of Reeser and reinstatement of Wildfong as interim director.
The WSUP editorial board also weighed in with a statement today signed by all 17 members denouncing the three employee firings and calling for their reinstatement. The editorial board thanked WSU president Wilson for moving the press from the university library system and placing it under the oversight of the president's chief of staff, Michael Wright. Wright met with the editorial board on Monday afternoon.
"Michael has assured us that he is working to restore trust," the board declared, "To that end, we welcome Kathryn Wildfong back as interim director and look forward to the hiring of a permanent Director. We are hopeful about the future of the Press."