Meet the New UM Press, Same as the Old UM Press, Sort Of [UPDATED With Comments From Clair Willcox and the Save the UM Press Facebook Page Organizers and News of Speer Morgan]
Updated August 29 with comments from Ned Stuckey-French and Clair Willcox and news about Speer Morgan's "leadership role" at the end of this post.
The fate of the University of Missouri Press, which has all summer been a cause célèbre among those interested in scholarly publishing (and there are more than you would think), has been decided, according to a joint statement issued this morning by UM system president Tim Wolfe and Mizzou chancellor Brady Deaton. Well, sort of.
The much-maligned plan to install Speer Morgan, the editor of the literary magazine the Missouri Review, as press director and lay off most of the current staff and replace them with graduate student interns is also, if not kaput, going to be subject to some serious rethinking. A call went out this morning for nominations for members of a new advisory board that will determine the Press's future.
"Essentially, we're going back to the drawing board," says university spokeswoman Mary Jo Banken. "This is based on a lot of the feedback and advice we've been getting."
That's a nice way of describing criticism of the new Press model, which has included protests, petitions, a very active Facebook page and many very angry letters from Press authors and series editors.
The only major change is that the UM system will be transferring control of the Press to the Mizzou campus immediately instead of waiting till the end of the fiscal year (June, 2013) as previously planned. Now Mizzou will assume financial responsibility for the Press and subsidize any costs of running it that aren't covered by the sales of books.
The university is also doing its best to mend fences with Press employees. With the notable exception of Clair Willcox, the former editor-in-chief who was laid off in July, everybody who was at the Press in May, at the time of the first announcement, is still working there. UM and Mizzou officials met with the staff this morning and told them they would be allowed to stay in their current positions. Of the nine employees, Banken says, two have already found new jobs within the UM system and will be moving on. Willcox won't be coming back, either; Banken says he's also found a new job. [For clarification from Willcox, see the updates at the end of this post.]
For the time being, Dwight Browne, and not Morgan, will remain the interim director of the Press, and the Press will remain in its current offices in a Columbia business park instead of moving to the Mizzou campus to share space with the Missouri Review.
"Speer Morgan will continue his leadership role at the Missouri Review and work alongside the Press collaboratively," Banken says. "His leadership role at the Press is yet to be determined."
As for Morgan's original plan to replace the professional staff with cheap labor in the form of graduate student interns, Banken says reports were highly exaggerated. "There will still be a professional full-time staff," she says. "The interns will be working for the Press the way students work for KOMU and the Missourian [Mizzou's TV station and newspaper] or like science students work in labs. It will be a laboratory for highly-skilled students, mostly graduate students, but some undergrad, who are interested in working for presses."
The one prospect of a Morgan regime that most terrified academics, the abolition of peer review of scholarly books, will also not come to pass.