Skullduggery and Conniving at University of Missouri Press: The Saga Continues

The battle continues in Columbia over the fate of the University of Missouri Press, which lost its $400,000 in annual funding just before Memorial Day and then, miraculously, rose from the dead a few weeks later with a new director, a radical new model that proposed using student interns instead of experienced full-time staffers and (whaddaya know?) a $100,000 operating budget.

In the wake of the first announcement, university system president Tim Wolfe received a series of angry protest letters. In the wake of the second, he received requests from approximately 30 UM Press authors demanding copyrights to their books back so they can publish them elsewhere.

Now an open records request for correspondence between Speer Morgan, the press's new director, and Steve Graham, UM's vice president for academic affairs, by the Columbia Tribune has revealed that the two had been discussing the new press model, outlined by Morgan, as early as April, a month before the surprise announcement to shut down the existing press.

Morgan, who is also the editor of the Missouri Review, the university's literary magazine, sent his original proposal to Graham in April. It was based largely on a model established by Lookout Books, a year-old nonprofit literary press based out of the University of North Carolina-Wilmington; UM subsequently paid Lookout's editorial director, Ben George, a $1000 consulting fee, plus travel expenses.

Like the new UM Press, Lookout Press is closely linked to a university literary magazine. It does not use peer review, a longstanding custom among university and scholarly presses to ensure that the research and scholarship in each book are accurate and up-to-date. Under its old director, Clair Willcox, who, as of July, is now unemployed, UM Press had required two peer reviewers for each new title.

(And if you don't think that's important, check out the recent scandal involving Jonah Lehrer and his new popular science book, Imagine, which was published by Houghton Mifflin, a commercial press. Lehrer was caught fabricating quotes, which caused him to resign his job as a staff writer for the New Yorker and caused his very embarrassed publisher to recall all copies of the book. Lehrer's science, according to a New York Times reviewer, who happened to be a psychology professor, wasn't so great, either.)

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egolterman topcommenter

Missouri Press refused to help me with or publish "The Mugging of Kiel Opera House".

So I did it on my own and though it only sold 500 copies it 'chased' the Kiel Killers off the

building for 2 years,  long enough for it to be restored and re-opened. Don't think much of the Missouri Press.  Put the money into teaching students how to do real investigative reporting.- before the fact, the kind that stops crooked deals before they roll out.


@Drcurmud Should we hold you at all responsible? Hmmm?


An excellent summary of recent events and thanks for the shout-out. I do want to offer one correction. It was Ben George of Lookout Books, not VP Steven Graham, who wrote, "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." Graham may well agree with the statements -- his actions say he does -- but the words are George's. I hope people will "like" the Save the U of Missouri Pres Facebook page and sign our online petition:


@alzambone The railroad book was so unpopular it sank the press.


 @aimee.levitt Thank you! Again, an excellent piece. I especially like your explanation of peer review, so nicely illustrated by the Jonah Lehrer example.

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