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Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Zombified University of Missouri Press Back From the Dead

Posted By on Tue, Jul 17, 2012 at 8:00 AM

This old fiddle's gonna be replaced by a newfangled electric violin!
  • This old fiddle's gonna be replaced by a newfangled electric violin!

Please hold your outrage, lovers of university presses. The University of Missouri Press, consigned to eternal doom not two months ago, has been resurrected! Like the South, it will rise again! (Or, if you prefer, like the Terminator, it will be back.)

University administrators announced yesterday morning plans for University of Missouri Press 2.0, apparently reversing an earlier announcement made just before Memorial Day that the university press would be phased out altogether at the start of the 2013 fiscal year on July 1. Or, rather, it decided it would no longer allot the press the annual $400,000 subsidy it needed to run. (Never mind that it gave $2.6 million to bail out the athletic department after it had been operating at a deficit for five years.)

The ten employees of the press who were laid off on July 1 are still jobless. Speer Morgan, an English professor and editor of the Missouri Review literary magazine will be the new director. The new press will be a "teaching press," Morgan told the Columbia Daily Tribune, relying on graduate students, a traditional source of cheap labor in universities, to do some of the editing.

"There's going to be teaching involved with all the positions because part of the idea of this press is to integrate it with the campus and integrate it with the teaching function of the college," Morgan said. "That's a key idea, more teaching and learning."

Morgan is currently searching for a new editor-in-chief to replace the ousted Clair Willcox. The peer review process will be conducted by faculty from all four University of Missouri campuses.

The new press will inherit the old University of Missouri Press's backlist of 2,000-some titles, but Morgan said that, going forward, he plans to do more with e-books and other new reading technology.

The administration is optimistic. Mizzou chancellor Brady Deaton said in a statement: "By launching a press that is creative, cost-effective and in line with the university mission of educating students and advancing knowledge, MU can develop a model for a new kind of university press that effectively integrates a significant publishing enterprise with high-quality, hands-on education and training of students in new publishing technologies and practices." (Translation: students work for way cheaper than professionals.)

"This is a way to save the press, even though it's going to have a someone different structure and operating mode," MU provost Brian Foster told the Tribune. "I think we have some pretty strong resources not only to run a press but to think about where scholarly publishing is going."

This decision does not come close to appeasing the 4,737 people who signed a Save the University of Missouri Press petition, nor the 2,442 members of the Save the University of Missouri Press Facebook page, nor the others who petitioned MU system president Tim Wolfe, including department chairs from UMSL, the director of the Kansas City Libraries and the author William Least Heat-Moon.

A statement appeared on the Save the University of Missouri Press Facebook page this afternoon questioning the administration's decision to create a "new" press. Why the need to replace the old staff of seasoned professionals with grad students?

In the past at the University of Missouri and at virtually all university presses nationwide, professional acquisitions editors review manuscripts, decide whether they are worthy of peer review, find the best outside reviewers for selected manuscripts, evaluate the responses of the outside reviewers, decide what revisions are necessary, and present the reviewed manuscripts to the Press's Editorial Board for final approval. Will these steps now be placed in the hands of student interns and if so, who will want to publish with such a press? Will the peer review process be of sufficient rigor to allow untenured faculty to use a University of Missouri Press book as a selling point in their tenure process? Will established scholars be willing to work with such a haphazardly staffed press? The release characterizes the "new model" as a "teaching enterprise," but what scholar will want to have his or her manuscript evaluated, copy edited, and indexed by a student as part of a course exercise?

Who will design and distribute the books, both the traditional paper and the newfangled electronic? Why were none of the authors who publish with the Press informed of the changes? And, most importantly, where is the money coming from to fund this grand enterprise?

Daily RFT has a call in to Morgan to find out the answers to some of these questions.

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