June 16, 2012 § 8 Comments

Open any book published by the University of Missouri Press and you will see this on the copyright page:

Copyright © year by
The Curators of the University of Missouri
University of Missouri Press, Columbia Missouri

Most universities have trustees, but Missouri has curators. I like that word.

The verb “curate” may have gone pop, overused to the point where no one wants to hear it anymore, but “the Curators of the University of Missouri,” that sounds solid.

One imagines wise and gentle souls taking care, not of souls, but (according to the university’s official description) new degree programs, endowed chairs, centers and institutes. Whoever dubbed them “curators” wanted to use a word that carried weight, maybe even freight. Cribbing from various dictionaries we find that under the Roman emperor Augustus, curators administered matters of transportation involving roads and the Tiber. The Romans also used the word in the same way it would later be used in British law, meaning the guardian of a minor or an incompetent person. A curator is a manager, overseer, steward, superintendent, keeper, he who cares for or takes charge of a thing.

The Board of Curators is defined on the university’s website:

“The University of Missouri, which refers to the institution, in all of its parts, persons, property and relationships wherever situated, owned, operated, controlled, managed or otherwise regulated, is under the supervision or direction of The Board of Curators of the University of Missouri…”

So, why would this supervisory body, with its officers and standing committees, these men of the world (very few women on the board apparently), many of them lawyers,  sign the death warrant of the University of Missouri Press?

Why would these guardians of copyright, the stewards of the 2000 titles published by the press, forfeit their property, abdicate their responsibility, throwing the precious cultural legacy of the their much-beloved university into the trash?

No, you say? The language describing the role of the Board of Curators within the university is mere boilerplate, like a legal contract that no one reads and is never enforced?

Therefore, you tell me, it is the president and the administrators of the UM System who actually make the decisions, because the Board of Curators simply enjoy having their photographs on the university website?

Well, let me tell you something: if the curators are complicit in the killing of the press it is like the librarian of Congress setting his building ablaze. If the Board of Curators is like the Board of Directors at a corporation, than those who sit on such a board would be guilty of violating their fiduciary responsibility to the people of Missouri.

But, no matter who is ultimately responsible, Mr. Wolfe for his ignorance, Mr. Graham for what appears to be his personal animus against the University of Missouri Press, the other administrators, the curators, the point is this: they have hurt their authors, they have injured them irreparably, they have interfered with the promotion, sale, profit, reputation, career (especially in the case of untenured faculty) of their own authors, the very people the university vowed to help.

Can anyone imagine that a reviewer will pay attention to, or take seriously, a book that, last week, came into her hands when she reads that the press is being shut down? What irresponsible behavior on the part of the gang that is calling the shots, what arrogance for them to take it upon themselves to tell people that their life’s labor is beneath contempt, worth nothing more than an electronic notice sent en masse?

What will happen to the books? What will happen to the reputation of this once widely respected university? How many people will follow Mary Ratchford Douglass’s example and cease their giving to the university because of this unacceptable decision to raze that temple of art and knowledge we call the University of Missouri Press?

On June 26th and 27th, The Board of Curators holds its annual meeting in Columbia.  I urge you to go to this meeting and ask to be heard during the public comment period, and speak openly and clearly and tell them to save the University of Missouri Press.




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