by Aimee Levitt
The Post-Dispatch was not the only publishing institution in Missouri to have a bad week. Yesterday morning, Tim Wolfe, the president of the University of Missouri system, announced plans to shut down the University of Missouri Press.
The news came as a complete surprise to the ten-member staff, editor in chief Clair Wilcox told the Columbia Daily Tribune.
It was true the press, which was partially funded by a $400,000 annual subsidy from the university system, had continued to operate with a deficit even after seven employees had been laid off three years ago, but who expects a university press to be a major money-making operation?
The purpose of the U of M Press, founded in 1958, was to showcase scholarly work about Missouri and its people which would be ignored by more commercial publishers. The current catalog, likely to be the press's last, features a memoir by a Bootheel farmer, a study of old-time Missouri fiddlers, histories of the Missouri State Penitentiary and a Civil War draft resistance movement and biographies of Satchel Paige and the folklorist Mary Alicia Owen (the last with the tantalizing title Voodoo Priests, Noble Savages and Ozark Gypsies).
Wolfe explained in a statement that he and his fellow administrators "take seriously our role to be good stewards of public funds, to use those funds to achieve our strategic priorities and re-evaluate those activities that are not central to our core mission."
Perhaps he meant that of the 30 titles the press produces annually, less than ten percent are by university faculty? (But of all the professors and grad students in the University of Missouri system who are toiling away at books and dissertations, how many are about Missouri to begin with?)
In any case, Brian Foster, the university provost, promises that the university will be looking into other means of showcasing the work of its students and faculty, though at the moment, he's not quite sure what those will be.
"Technological changes have turned media up on their head, and that's turning scholarly communication on its head," he told the Tribune. "It's more than publishing a book; it's a much broader change....Given how the system is in such fundamental change, we just don't know where it's going."
Nobody's quite sure yet when or how the press will be dismantled, but the heads should start to roll around July 1, the start of the 2013 fiscal year.