The Nation, May, 26. On May 24, 2012, the University of Missouri System announced that it would close the University of Missouri Press so that it might focus more efficiently on “strategic priorities.” Admirers of the press mobilized rapidly to save it. “By abrupt fiat,” the author William Least Heat-Moon wrote in a local newspaper, the university “wants to eradicate a half-century of dedicated work in fostering, developing and publishing more than 2,000 books.” During a concert in Columbia, Missouri, Lucinda Williams lamented the closing of the press and defended its beleaguered staff. The New York Times and NPR covered the controversy, and 5,200 people signed a petition supporting the press. Four months later, the university reversed its decision. “Without question, the best news from the University of Missouri Press,” its editor in chief, Clair Willcox, recently wrote, “is that there is a University of Missouri Press.”
The Missouri case starkly illustrates a dual reality about the world of university press publishing—many university presses exist on the edge, and a large number of people want them to survive and flourish. Says Peter Berkery, the executive director of the Association of American University Presses (AAUP): “University presses are experiencing new, acute and, in some ways, existential pressures, largely from changes occurring in the academy and the technology juggernaut. Random House can see the technology threat and they can throw some substantial resources at it. The press at a small land-grant university doesn’t have the same ability to respond.”
“It is one of the noblest duties of a university to advance knowledge, and to diffuse it not merely among those who can attend the daily lectures—but far and wide.” So wrote Daniel Coit Gilman, the founder of Johns Hopkins University and its university press, which, established in 1878, is the oldest in the country.
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