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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]

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It lives!!!!
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.

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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.


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1 comments
nstuckey-french
nstuckey-french

Speaking as one of the 50+ authors who has asked the University of Missouri to return my publication rights, I am decidedly impatient. I spoke with Asst VP Deborah Noble-Triplett in phone calls she scheduled twice last Friday about authors' rights and she assured me she was convening a meeting of the people she needed to meet with early this week (I now write this on Weds) to decide on this issue and said she would get back to me. I wrote her an email yesterday after the announcement and copied it to her assistant and former Chancellor Richard Wallace. I have heard nothing. I was in touch by email with the full list of 50+ authors yesterday and none of them have heard whether their rights will be returned to them. The University knows full well that all of this hinges on Clair Willcox being offered his job back. He has been at the Press more than 20 years and has been the editor-in-chief with whom most all of these authors worked. They respect him and are loyal to him. He did nothing wrong in all of this but he, not any of the administrators who have botched this whole thing, is without a job. Speer Morgan, whose emails show how much he has connived behind closed doors with no regard for the 10 professionals working at the Press, is still going to have a "leadership role." Dwight Browne, INTERIM director for over 3 years, is still going to have a "leadership role." This is nonsense.As for peer review, do these people sound like they have any understanding of or respect for it?

“With all respect to Dean O'Brien and his perspective, I don't think that the comments of peer reviewers are as valuable as the reaction to and reception of a book once it's published. That's how its value is determined. …I don’t really think peer review is the right way to go.” – Ben George, March 19 “When you look at what we have invested in the press over the past 15 years, and maybe before that, we’ve invested a lot in the press, and relatively few of our faculty publish in the press, so the subsidy to outside authors is huge.” – UM Vice President for Finance and Administration Nikki Krawitz June 19

 

“Our university press had been used by seven MU faculty members in four years. A lot of authors from MU were turned away.” – President Tim Wolfe, Kansas City Star, July 16

 

“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.”

– Professor Speer Morgan to Publishers Weekly, July 18

 

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