The Academics Rally!: Latest Chapter in the Saga of UM Press

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The Battle of the University of Missouri Press rages on. On Tuesday, former press staffers and authors gathered for a rally in on the Mizzou campus in Columbia.

The rally itself, judging from pictures in the Columbia Tribune, was less colorful than Occupy and less populated than the March on Washington (any of the Marches on Washington). About 100 people gathered in Jesse Wrench Auditorium and listened to speeches by, among others, former UM Press editor-in-chief Clair Willcox and UM Press author William Least Heat-Moon, denouncing the recent decision by the university to turn care of the press over to English professor Speer Morgan and a team of student interns.

Heat-Moon reiterated his pledge last month to donate $100,000 to keep the press running according to its old model, equivalent to the current sum in the university budget allotted to the new-model press.

"The new model is bogus," he declared. "It is totally, completely, absolutely and fully unnecessary, and we must not allow this change to happen."

Willcox, meanwhile, defended his press against the charges that it was old-fashioned and out-of-touch with technology -- a state of affairs Morgan promises the new press will remedy with e-books and other digital formats, as yet to be determined.

"[We were] offering online databases long before the iPad was a gleam in someone's eye," he told the assemblage.

The rally concluded with a dozen authors and editors reading selections from UM Press books, including Bright Light Bright City: Images of Las Vegas in Popular Culture by Larry Gragg, which had been under contract to be published by UM Press, but is now on the list at University of Kansas Press.

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Far more stirring were the letters of resignation sent to UM system president earlier in the day by Jon L. Wakelyn and John C. McManus, both of whom were editors of book series on military history. Both Wakelyn and McManus wrote that they hadn't been informed directly about changes in the press -- Wakelyn said he'd only found out when he read about it in the New York Times and he still hasn't spoken to Morgan or any other editors.

"This is most insulting," he wrote, "I also have authors in the pipeline who will lose their books, and that is most unethical." Wakelyn joined the 45 other UM authors who have requested that the press relinquish its rights to their work so they can take their books to other publishers.

McManus, a professor at the Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla, wrote that initially he had planned to stick with the press out of loyalty to the university.

"Subsequently, much new information has come to light about the various back channel maneuverings and the haphazard decision making that has ultimately led to the birth of this new UM Press," he wrote, "This has led me to wonder about the new press's level of commitment to scholarship."

If the press does revert rights back to all the authors who have requested them, it may lose a significant portion of its operating budget, $575,000 of which was to have been raised from sales of backlist titles.

The university said, via a spokeswoman, that it's taking nominations for an advisory committee to discuss the future of the press. Stay tuned.

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