Editor-in-chief Annie Martin, editorial, design, and production editor Kristin Harpster and marketing and sales manager Emily Nowak are returning to work at Wayne State University Press on Tuesday morning after an 18-day absence. A rapprochement between Wayne State University and the three women was reached on Friday afternoon exactly 14 days after the three were called into a meeting on February 7 and terminated by Jon Cawthorne, dean of WSU's library system, who at the time was charged with oversight of the press.
Confirming the news this weekend, Michael Wright, the university's chief of staff and v-p of marketing and communications, sounded a conciliatory note when he stated in an email to PW: "We are confident that the reinstatement of these critical employees will best serve the University Press's important mission, and we are resolved to refocus and re-energize the Press team toward this purpose."
“They miss working with their authors,” said their attorney, Jennifer McManus of the Royal Oak, Mich. law firm Fagan McManus, who represents the three women, who, collectively, have 54 years of experience at WSU Press. “We’re halfway there: they’ve never received an apology, they’ve never received an explanation. They’ve been through intense turmoil these past two weeks and they’re still considering proceeding with potential discrimination, retaliation and due process claims, which they have every right to do. They have options and I hope the university has a change of heart and agrees to have a meaningful discussion with us about these issues. While they look forward to returning to work, it doesn't negate all that they went through since their unexpected and inexplicable termination.”
As for Martin, Harpster, and Nowak, the three provided PW with a joint written statement: "Devastated doesn’t begin to describe the last weeks. We’ve always wanted is to do good work, get the chance to get people’s work out there, and maybe make a little difference in the world. What we’ve realized in the past two weeks is that there are people out there who feel we’ve done that. We have a troop of the most amazing authors and supporters, and that has been, perhaps, the one thing that has kept us from sinking. We are happy to get back to work, where we can continue to support our authors."
While there may still be litigation between the three women and the university, the turmoil that has rocked WSU Press, the university itself, and the greater university press community has abated for the time being. In the two weeks since the February 7 firings, the press has already undergone a transformation, as the university tried all last week to tamp down a public relations crisis that went viral and at times seemed on the verge of spiraling out of control. The outcry against the firings included an open letter signed by 92 authors and others affiliated with WSU Press that condemned the action and demanded the immediate reinstatement of the three employees. WSU Press’s entire editorial board of 17 WSU faculty also signed an open letter condemning the firings and demanding that the three be reinstated.
Adding to the drama, senior production manager Carrie Downes Teefey, resigned two days after the firings of her colleagues in solidarity with them.
A week after the firings, WSU president M. Roy Wilson transferred oversight of the press from Cawthorne, (who many insiders speaking to PW considered to have initiated the firings for ulterior motives) to Wright. Two days later, interim press director Tara Reeser submitted her resignation and will also leave the university at the end of the month. Kathy Wildfong was then almost immediately named interim director; the university announced at the same time that it was resuming its search for a permanent director. And a few hours after the announcement was made about Wildfong’s return to WSU Press as interim director, Teefey rescinded her resignation.
Wildfong will report directly to Wright, as the press will remain under the oversight of the chief of staff in the president's office.
Update (2/26/20) WSU has confirmed that Dean Cawthorne was the university official who actually terminated the three press employees on Feb. 7. The firings took place in Cawthorne's office, with Reeser and WSU HR rep Vicki Hall in attendance. This story has been updated.