Press or Pass: The Unfunny Closing of the University of Missouri Press

Tracy Wuster

Update:  As of October, the decision to close the Press has been reversed and Clair Willcox has been rehired.  The concerted efforts of many people helped convince the bigwigs at Mizzou to reverse course, even if they won’t fully admit their mistakes.  I will be publishing my book with the press, if it is approved, of course.   To follow the situation, go here:  I have added a new cartoon below.

Another update: in November, 2015, Wolfe has resigned due to his handling of a number of incidents concerning racism.  In a twist, considering the satire on Wolfe below, the final straw seems to have been the announcement that many members of the football team would be on strike until Wolfe left.  In another, more personal, twist, I received my page proofs for Mark Twain: American Humorist from the University of Missouri Press on Saturday night.

This summer has had something of a dark cloud hanging over it.  In June I arrived in San Francisco for the American Literature Association conference, excited for the conference, for a short vacation, and for the chance to get back to Austin to get to work on my book.  Tentatively titled “The Great American Humorist: The Making and Meanings of Mark Twain,” the book was/is under advance contract with The University of Missouri Press for inclusion in the “Mark Twain and His Circle Series.”  I was scheduled to get the press a revised draft by July 1.

On the first day of ALA, I learned of the decision of the UM system’s new president, Tim Wolfe, to shut down the press, a decision he made without consulting any of the press’s employees or, it appears, any faculty at the four campuses of the UM system.

Many have noted that the subsidy for the press was pulled at the same time as the university announced a $200 million plan to upgrade athletic facilities.  As part of the justification for closing the press was that it did not fit into the core mission of the university, many have wondered if the core mission of many universities is football (often with tragic results).  And while sports can play a necessary and positive role in higher education, the prioritization of sports over academics can be seen as part of a larger view of colleges as businesses rather than as colleges.

For more information, see the “Save the University of Missouri Press” Facebook page.

Please sign the Petition to save the press.

Recent article on the closing of the press by William Least Heat-Moon.

The just announced “plan” to do something or other to replace the press. Unfortunately, not a joke.

This is all very sad and frustrating, and the only humor in the situation consists of the short, nasal chuckle in which a sigh is transformed into a rueful commentary on the silliness of the universe by a slight smile and a slow shake of the head.

Why should you care?  While the closing of the press affects me personally, if you are interested in the study of humor or the study of Mark Twain, then the closing of the press means the loss of a press that published significant books in both areas (see below for a sampling of the books).

Unlike the recent, and quite analogous tumult at the University of Virginia, the decisions of business people, with little academic experience, to so drastically attack key components of academic life has been met with little satiric ridicule.  The work of John Darkow at The Columbia Daily Tribune is the exception.

University of Missouri Press football athletics SEC

University of Missouri Press mizzou football athletics SEC

University of Missouri Press, Tim Wolfe, Mizzou

See below for three more cartoons from Darkow, as well as some other bits of humor and a sampling of the fine books the press has published on humor.

One more piece of humor, from Ned Stuckey-French, from Katha Pollitt’s blog at The Nation:

“President Wolfe’s spokesperson, Jennifer Hollingshead, said that comparing the press’s subsidy to the football coach’s salary makes no sense.

It’s like “comparing apples and bowling balls,” she said.

Of course, you can compare any two things—a university press and Walmart, for instance. And apples, we know, are natural, various, and the source of humanity’s knowledge, while bowling balls are uniform, unyielding and used to knock things over.”

Yo, dawg! There is also this.

Two more cartoons on the state of Missouri higher ed:

mizzou missouri press, tim wolfe, academics, cartoon, speer morgan

After the abandonment of the “new model” and the birth of the “new new model” in late August, Darkow did this cartoon:

Is an apology for disrupting the work of authors, putting the reputation of the press in jeopardy, and treating employees like pawns be that hard?  Apparently….

And some of the great and relevant books the University of Missouri Press.  {You can buy them by clicking on the link images to support the press and our website–some links will take you to Powells, some to Amazon, but anything you buy after clicking will help support us. Thanks}

African American Satire by Darryl Dickson-Carr

Mark Twain: Unsanctified Newspaper Reporter by James Caron

Fetching the Old Southwest by james Justus

Southern Frontier Humor: An Anthology by Tom Inge and Ed Piacentino

Mark Twain: The Fate of Humor by James Cox

Mark Twain and Human Nature by Tom Quirk (editor of the series)

The American Essay in the American Century by Ned Stuckey-French

Mark Twain in Japan by Tsuyoshi Ishihara

City of Refuge (Critical Edition) by Rudolph Fisher

Mark Twain and Medicine by Patrick Ober (see our review)

The Collected Works of Langston Hughes!

Gender Play in Mark Twain by Linda Morris

Humor and Revelation in American Literature by Pascal Covici

The Imaginative Prose of Oliver Wendell Holmes by Michael Weinstein

Mark Twain and Metaphor by John Bird

Mark Twain: Social Philosopher by Louis J. Budd

The Sagebrush Anthology ed. Lawrence Berkove

The Wit of Seventeenth Century Poetry, ed. Summers and Pebworth

Mark Twain and His Circle books

6 responses

  1. A satirical review of the situation as a book review:

  2. Wonderful website. Plenty of helpful info here.
    I am sending it to some buddies ans additionally sharing in delicious.
    And obviously, thank you on your effort!

  3. Reblogged this on Humor in America and commented:

    An old post, but with a fresh relevance today with the resignation of Tim Wolfe.

    1. a comparative political literatic review of missouri press

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