Beat the Press

The University of Missouri says it can no longer afford to lose money with its publishing arm, University of Missouri Press. So UMP is being killed off with the coming of the new fiscal year on July 1. It will take a little while to wind things down but ten good and dedicated people are losing their jobs with an organization that has for more than half a century enriched the cultures of Missouri.

This writer needs to make sure the reader knows he’s talking about the people who took a typescript and a stack of (well, some disks full of) photographs and transformed them into a stunning book called THE ART OF THE MISSOURI CAPITOL a year ago. I’m so proud of that book, not because I’m the writer and co-author but because of the incredible job UMP did in producing it. The Capitol Commission, which raised money for the production of the book and for the subsidy to UMP to publish it, had been hoping there would be a second printing. But now, who knows?

Whether there is a second printing is a secondary matter when compared to the death of the Press.

The loss of the University of Missouri Press is a loss to all of Missouri, as the loss of similar university presses in to other states have diminished those states.

University presses have struggled for years in a weak economy and a changing world of book publishing and circulation. They don’t publish stuff like Harry Potter novels or Fifty Shades of Gray, or David McCullough’s latest best-seller.

But the University of Missouri Press has given us Vance Randolph’s multi-volume collection of Ozark folk songs, the collected works of Langston Hughes, Robert Farrell’s books about Harry Truman, the Missouri Heritage series of books covering a huge array of topics, and more. And so much more.

If the University of Missouri Press isn’t there to give all of us the opportunity to be better Missourians by learning about the great diversity of Missouri history and culture, who will give us that opportunity? It doesn’t appear anybody will, certainly not in the depth and variety UMP has given us for 54 years.

But the real world intrudes. University of Missouri Press has been losing money for a few years and in the last year the University subsidized it to the tune of $400,000. The university system—as is the case with all of Missouri higher education—has dealt with funding cuts and tuition freezes for several years and the governor and the legislature have little interest in solving that problem. In fact the legislature feels it deserves oodles of kudos for rejecting the governor’s request that it cut another $106 million from higher education in the next budget and instead holding funding at the current year’s level—which is about the same as the higher ed budget a decade or more ago. Lawmakers are proud that they didn’t follow the governor’s lead and cut the funding back to 1990s levels.

So universities have to look for things to jettison. University of Missouri Press is being thrown over the side. The chairman of the UMKC faculty council, in the Columbia Daily Tribune yesterday, says, “I could recoup this amount of money by eliminating two upper-level administrative positions somewhere on our four campuses. Should we close the libraries as well, since they are not income-producing units?” That’s a rhetorical question, of course. And a spokeswoman for the university has told the newspaper that two system-level associate vice-presidents HAVE been cut.

A lot of people who are upset about the decision see the University of Missouri Press has having a value beyond the costs of keeping it alive. Some people are upset enough that they’ve told the university to forget about future money donations. But it’s hard to see the curators changing their minds when the university has leaky roofs, outmoded laboratories, and faculty salaries that are often considered less than the salaries paid at the high-level universities that the University of Missouri likes to think it is.

We’ve covered a lot of legislator-talk about “right-sizing” state government and darned if we know what the right size of government is although we’ve heard them talk in a lot of general terms about small government operating on low taxes. In today’s political climate, there doesn’t appear to be much room for heritage, culture, literature, and meaningful published scholarship, at least not if those things are subsidized by taxpayers who, we are often reminded, can make better decisions about spending their money than government can.

Supporters of the cut say it will help “right-size” the university. Critics of the planned cut think the University of Missouri will be a lesser university because it is killing the University of Missouri Press.

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One thought on “Beat the Press

  1. Tragically, this is the moral equivalent of a bonfire to burn books that have not yet — and will never — be printed. Last year it was the loss of the Official Manual of Missouri. This year the entire University Press. The people of the state of Missouri have endured considerable financial hardship since1839 and still managed to support a Carnegie 1 research institution as their flagship university. That university (from which, in full disclosure, I hold two degrees) would be deeply remiss to fail in that trust by depriving those supporting Missourians of a university publishing enterprise that documents, commemorates and celebrates the culture and heritage of the people that make the University of Missouri system possible. One would think that that with all the great minds on the four-campus system, a plan could be devised to continue the University of Missouri Press AND spring for snazzy new football uniforms.

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