M-I-Z W-T-F | University of Missouri Press Update

20 Jul 2012

Cross-posted on digitalcultureweek.

As a Mizzou alum, a Columbia, Missouri native, and someone interested in improving the scholarly communication system, I am embarrassed by recent developments concerning the University of Missouri Press. The University announced earlier this week this that it would not, as it had indicated two months ago, shut down the press but rather "reimagine" it to use vaguely defined "innovative techniques for scholarly communication." The announcement reveals a lack of understanding of the issues involved, poor communication and planning, and diminishes the reputation of a relatively stable university publishing ecosystem.

The details given thus far about the press's funding are worrisome. Mizzou Advantage will provide the funding, which is an institutional initiative that funds new projects and research in areas where the university sees itself as having a competitive advantage. Given that the press was due to be shut down, it's hard to imagine that the university deems it a strategic asset. If the university is in fact committed to supporting the press then it would behoove it to give the press its own budget line rather than funding from the equivalent of a startup fund, which raises concerns about long-term support for the press.

The administration's closed decision-making process has also received much criticism. Employees at the press were not aware of plans of the closure until it was announced in the local newspaper, and the subsequent revamping appears not to have solicited input from faculty and others within the university who were already working to rethink how the press could evolve. For example, my graduate advisor, Professor John Budd, had been on a committee looking into revitalizing the press, and he mentioned to me last December that he had suggested to the committee that the press could support faculty teaching by creating an opencourseware platform. Creating channels for dialog and soliciting support from the many people within and outside of the university who are interested and willing to dedicate time and energy to creating a vibrant University of Missouri Press is essential if the press is to continue to have a meaningful role at the university.

As I have learned from following Mizzou basketball and football over the years, the crux of being a Mizzou fan is knowing that any success will be inevitably be met with equal disappointment. I only hope that the reverse will apply in this case, where initial disappointment will somehow be turned into a positive outcome.

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