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Mo. College Debates Balance Of Academia, Budget


It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Audie Cornish.


And I'm Melissa Block. After 54 years, the University of Missouri Press is about to close. The university's board is not backing down from a decision to shutter the publishing house for financial reasons. Supporters of the press, spurred by an online campaign, attended a board meeting this week, hoping to turn back what they see as corporate incursion on campus. NPR's Lynn Neary has the story.

LYNN NEARY, BYLINE: It was a miserable Memorial Day weekend for Bruce Joshua Miller. The publishers' representative who has worked with the University of Missouri Press for 20 years had just learned that the small publishing house had lost its $400,000 subsidy from the university and would have to shut down. He was trying to figure out what he could do to support the press.

BRUCE JOSHUA MILLER: So I started a Facebook page and had a few people liked it. And, you know, it had 12 people, and I was excited because I had 28 people, and it just started to kind of mushroom from there.

NEARY: More than 2,000 people have now shown their support for the University of Missouri Press on that Facebook page, and more than 4,000 have signed an online petition to support the press. Ned Stuckey-French, an associate professor of English at Florida State University who had a book published by the press, organized the petition. He says books published by scholarly presses like Missouri may not be well known, but that doesn't mean they're not important.

NED STUCKEY-FRENCH: They may go for a year or two or three without anybody even checking them out of the library, but that doesn't mean that they won't be rediscovered, that they don't serve scholars to re-envision a certain time in history or a certain writer in a new way a decade down the way. I mean, books, like teachers, affect eternity, and especially these books.

NEARY: The University of Missouri Press publishes a range of scholarly material, including works on regional figures like Harry Truman, Mark Twain and Langston Hughes, who was born in Joplin. The 10 editors of the collected works of Langston Hughes wrote an open letter questioning the decision to close the press. Stuckey-French says the fate of this scholarly collection is now uncertain.

STUCKEY-FRENCH: And so whether these works of Langston Hughes, these 16 volumes that really helped us re-envision Hughes as an important writer, whether they'll continue to be distributed or whether those books will be pulped or just sit in a warehouse, we just don't know.

NEARY: The university says it wants to create a new model for the press which would take full advantage of digital technology and would involve students in some way. But Bruce Joshua Miller says the university's plans for the press are unclear.

MILLER: They seem to be pushing this so-called new model and trying to fob that off as a university press, just a different model, which it would not be. They're killing a publishing company and doing something else that has nothing to do with scholarly publishing.

NEARY: Jennifer Hollingshead, chief communication officer for the University of Missouri System, says the university is committed to publishing scholarly works, but she says the press was operating in the red.

JENNIFER HOLLINGSHEAD: With declining resources, it's more important than ever that we align those precious resources that we have with priorities that are going to be viable in the long term.

ALBERT GRECO: The vast majority of university presses are vulnerable to this sort of an evaluation that Missouri just went through.

NEARY: Fordham University professor Albert Greco is editor of a series of books on scholarly publishing. He says universities are facing tough choices right now.

GRECO: Provosts and presidents have had to evaluate university presses in terms of is that press as important or more important than an academic department, perhaps sociology or anthropology? I personally think it may well be, but if I were the sociology department, I may well have a different position.

NEARY: It's a tough economic time for everyone, says Ned Stuckey-French, but he worries that universities are looking to corporate culture for solutions that don't always respect academic values. The phasing out of the University of Missouri Press begins this weekend, but Stuckey-French and Miller say their protest movement is still growing, and they're not giving up yet. Lynn Neary, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lynn Neary is an NPR arts correspondent covering books and publishing.