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Editorial: UM System mismanages press discussion

Aug. 24, 2012

Editorials represent the majority opinion of The Maneater editorial board.

Since announcing plans to phase out the University of Missouri Press in May, UM System President Tim Wolfe has faced backlash for his plan to dismantle the publishing sector of the UM System.

Months after Wolfe made the decision to cut the press and the Board of Curators approved it, the mismanagement behind the decision is finally being revealed.

Wolfe's decision to close the press wasn't an inherently bad decision. The press has been losing money instead of making it and cuts needed to be made. The announcement that the press would shut down, while disappointing, was logical. For this reason, the blame does not fall on Wolfe and the UM System Board of Curators for their plans to "re-imagine" or "phase out" the press, but the way it was handled by the governing body of the UM System as a whole.

The problem lies in how the decision was made. The MU Faculty Council wasn't consulted about the decision before the announcement in May and the public was kept in the dark. A press that has existed since 1958 and published 2,000 books deserves better than to be dismantled without input from the faculty and staff who have helped to give it the reputation it has today.

Both the public and faculty have protested the changes to the press since they were announced. Supporters of the press have protested in curators meetings and have met to find a way to save the publishing body of the UM System. As of Aug. 23, 5,200 people have signed an online petition in an attempt to save the press, according to MU Faculty Council documents.

With his business background, Wolfe's decision to close the press makes sense, especially with his announcement of strategic initiatives to help improve the UM System as it moves forward. What he failed to grasp was that the UM Press exists for reasons beyond its profit margin. Its prestige reflects well on the UM System. A press dedicated to its history and education should be seen by the UM System governing body as a worthwhile investment, not a flawed business venture. A press this old, respected and valuable wasn't going to disappear without anyone noticing. The UM System made the mistake of thinking that it could.

Instead of consulting the faculty or public, the UM System chose to quietly shut down the press. In what seems to be cowardice, it offered no explanation for its decision nor did it look at views other than its own on the issue. The consequence -- a backward conversation on how to change a decision that was already made -- was frustrating, confusing and, ultimately, easily preventable. Communication is key.

Given recent events, this seems to be a growing trend. In March, the curators announced their intention to disband the Nuclear Science and Engineering Institute without contacting the affected professors, or even following their own bylaws. The disrespect the board has shown MU faculty over the last few months is unacceptable, and it can't continue. The curators and Wolfe need to reevaluate the way they handle unpopular changes. If Wolfe wants to come in as a businessman, he should understand that as a manager, he needs to step back and consult the people his decisions affect.

The closing of the UM Press was handled poorly from the start. Instead of being upfront with its thinking, the UM System chose to make sweeping decisions without any forewarning. Decisions that affect MU and the UM System should move forward one step at a time. By deciding to do this alone, the UM System has hurt the community, embarrassed the university and narrowed its own understanding of the UM Press.

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