University of Missouri works to restore support for academic press

Must rebuild relationships with authors

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — The University of Missouri is working restore the reputation of and financial support for its academic press, after the school reversed its decision close the 54-year-old publishing house to emphasize digital distribution.

University System President Tim Wolfe said in May that he wanted to close the University of Missouri Press and use its $400,000 subsidy for other expenses. That prompted outrage across the university system and the country, with some authors demanding their publishing rights be returned or taking their projects elsewhere.

The decision was reversed Tuesday, when the university announced the press would continue to produce books and digital publications. Control of the press will be shifted from the four-campus university system to the Columbia campus.

The press was started in 1958 and became known for work on presidential politics, regional history and western expansion from the 19th century. It has 2,000 publications, including more than 20 volumes on Missouri writer Mark Twain and the collected works of Missouri native Langston Hughes.

Former Missouri chancellor Richard Wallace is leading a team to help with the transition to Columbia, which will require administrators to determine how to fund the operation, acquire manuscripts with a staff shortage and persuade authors to stay with the press, The Columbia Daily Tribune reported (http://bit.ly/OzcPcG).

Wallace said he is aware that rebuilding relationships with authors is a top priority.

"There's no magic wand that's going to suddenly erase the past," Wallace said. "Fences need to be mended. We're going to work hard to do that, with authors being up there very, very high. The message would be we are going to have a high-quality academic university press."

The press currently is producing its fall list. Rather than working on future catalogs, employees spent much of the summer preparing to close the press. Many authors who were on the spring 2013 list have taken their manuscripts elsewhere and nothing has been acquired for a fall 2013 catalog.

The press also has only one editor, after Acquisitions Editor John Brenner accepted another job and Editor-in-Chief Clair Willcox was laid off.

All of those factors mean the press will not generate its normal revenue and is likely to need more than its previous subsidy. Financial details are being worked out, university spokeswoman Mary Jo Banken said.

"We need to pay the bills, whatever they're going to be," Wallace said.

In addition, if authors do get rights to their books back, that would decrease the roughly $700,000 in revenue generated from the backlist. Ned Stuckey-French, a Florida State University faculty member and co-organizer of a Save the UM Press Coalition, said he has heard from about a dozen authors who plan to continue to pursue their book rights unless Willcox is reinstated.

Bruce Joshua Miller, a Chicago-based book representative and co-organizer of the opposition, said Willcox might be the only person who could successfully repair the press' reputation.

However, Willcox said he doubts he would be welcomed back, especially because he was highly critical of the plans to close the press.


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

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