Wednesday, August 15, 2012

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

Posted By on Wed, Aug 15, 2012 at 8:00 AM


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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