Authors abandon Missouri press amid changes

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — Some authors unhappy with the University of Missouri’s decision to revamp its academic publishing business plan to take their book projects elsewhere.

The Columbia Daily Tribune reports (http://bit.ly/OEbOyA ) that the disgruntled authors include former U.S. Rep Ike Skelton, a Missouri Democrat who spent more than 30 years in Congress. Skelton said his memoirs are a “Missouri story” but will be published outside the state after university President Tim Wolfe’s decision in late May to close the 54-year-old publishing house.

“Someone else is going to publish it, someone outside of Missouri, sadly,” Skelton told the newspaper. “There’s no question about it, I would prefer that Missouri publish it. . It’s very unfortunate and, I think, shortsighted, frankly, not just for me but for other Missouri authors.”

Don Spivey, a University of Miami history professor whose biography of baseball great Satchel Paige was published by the University of Missouri Press weeks before the shutdown’s announcement, has asked the school to return his publishing rights.

“After 12 years of research to achieve the definitive biography of the legendary Satchel Paige, I think you can understand why I want the book, in all of its forms, in competent and stable hands for both the short and the long term,” Spivey wrote in an email to Wolfe.

The university announced Monday that it plans to replace the press with a digital publishing operation that will rely largely on student workers and be overseen by the editor of the Missouri Review, a literary journal. Many details of its operation remain unclear.

Clair Willcox, editor-in-chief of the Missouri press and one of 10 employees who expect to lose their jobs, said he has heard from other prospective authors who will no longer consider submitting their work to the revamped publishing operation.

“We’ve already seen a number of people who have spoken up and said, ‘I wouldn’t send my manuscript to that organization. I deserve professional treatment,”’ he said.

Administrators have cited several reasons for closing the current press, with Wolfe citing the need to better spend a $400,000 subsidy from the four-campus university system. Missouri provost Brian Foster has said the move is necessary to keep up with technological changes, though Willcox and other press supporters counter that the press already publishes on numerous digital platforms.

“One of the immediate reactions here by staff members is we already do all of that and more,” Willcox said.

The revised press hasn’t mollified critics who call the move a shortsighted effort to save money at the expense of the university’s academic reputation. They have collected nearly 5,000 petition signatures and plan to meet on the Columbia campus next week to further discuss next steps.

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Information from: Columbia Daily Tribune, http://www.columbiatribune.com

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