Full disclosure: Bruce J. Miller is my brother.
Saving the University of Missouri Press, a Q & A with Bruce J. Miller and Ned Stuckey-French
As many in the university press world know, an ominous cloud hung over our endeavor this past late spring and early summer with the University of Missouri System’s abrupt-seeming announcement in May that it would be closing down operations at the University of Missouri Press (UMP). The ensuing uproar in the publishing community and academia was unprecedented and ultimately led the system’s officials to reverse the decision.
As it turns out, two people—Bruce J. Miller, a book sales representative, and Ned Stuckey-French, a Florida State University professor—can take the lion’s share of the credit for saving the University of Missouri Press. We recently had the opportunity to find out why and how they pulled off this amazing feat.
Q: It’s been a long and wild ride since the University of Missouri System’s May announcement that it would close the University of Missouri Press to the October 5th decision to reinstate Clair Willcox as editor-in-chief and associate director of the reconstituted publishing house. What factors initially made you jump to the press’s defense?
BRUCE: The staff of UMP received no advance notice that the University was about to announce the shutdown of the Press. On May 18th I had e-mailed Beth Chandler, the marketing manager, to notify her I had received my sales kit and the reader containing excerpts from manuscripts of the new titles for the Fall 2012 list. On May 24th the announcement was made, but I don’t recall anyone on staff at the Press telling me about it. I found the news online, and I was shocked and angry. For the last thirty years I have been working as a commission publishers’ rep on behalf of university and independent presses, and I saw this action as an assault on everything I value. I wanted to do something about it, but I wasn’t sure what. The news reports noted that there was little opposition, and people I talked with at the Press pointed out that most of the faculty had left for the summer. It seemed as if UMP staff members were reluctant to talk publicly about what was going on, so Ned and I wanted to encourage opposition.
NED: Like Bruce, I heard about the closing of the Press online—from a Facebook friend, I think, or in a news feed. My first reasons for wanting to protest the closing came from my personal connections to the Press and the University of Missouri. UMP published my book, The American Essay in the American Century, in 2011, so I had worked with the staff and knew they deserved better. Also, my father grew up poor on a farm outside Kansas City during the Depression, went to MU, and was able to graduate after WWII with the help of the GI Bill of Rights, even going on to get an M.S. and a Ph.D. Public higher education changed his life and made mine possible. He was a proud Mizzou grad, but as I put it in my letter, “Today . . . . he would be outraged to hear his alma mater is shutting down its press. He published with university presses and knew how essential their work is to scholars, teachers, and students. He also knew how important the Press’s many books on Missouri writers, culture, landscape, and heritage are to his home state.” I wanted to do something to help save the University from itself. At first, all I could think to do was write that letter.