Lawrence Malley has retired as as director of the University of Arkansas Press. Former assistant director Mike Bieker is now in charge.
I got word of this yesterday from a friend in the publishing business. He naturally was concerned whether the change could be read as any clue to a change in status of the press, which survived a UA administration effort to shut it down 15 years ago.
I couldn’t reach Malley, but Bieker responded this morning to my note.
Larry decided a couple months ago to retire at the end of 2013. The reason things seem so sudden is due to his desire to keep things quiet. He’s been very private about this and he’s been supported all the way, although I suspected there may be a perception issue at this point. The Press is on good footing and the University’s commitment to the Press is solid, I’m confident. Larry and I have been discussing an arrangement for him to work in an editor-at-large role going forward.
The press was targeted for closure by then-Chancellor John White. An outcry saved the operation, which has an illustrious history, but it’s always had to operate on a tight budget. Good as many of its books are, they are rarely big commercial hits.
Doug Smith wrote an article for the Times last year that indicated the press was safe but that its fans remained watchful. It was then receiving a subsidy of about $250,000 a year from the University. (Less than many a football coach or many administrators at Fayeteville receive in a year.) Doug wrote:
While its neighbor to the north, the University of Missouri Press, is in grave danger, the University of Arkansas Pressappears reasonably secure. Some 14 years ago, the UA Press survived the same sort of threat the Missouri Press is facing now, and ever since then, friends of the press have kept a close eye on it and the UA administration, which once wanted to shut the press down.
The present chancellor at Fayetteville, David Gearhart, says “We think the press serves a very important purpose for the university, the state and the nation. We publish books from all over the country. … We hope some day they’ll be able to pay their own way. But we’re not overly concerned about it. It’s not a heavy cost to the university.”
Few if any university presses ever break even on their operations. Part of their job is to publish worthy books that would go unpublished otherwise. Most university-press books are not bestsellers.
Bieker sounds confident that the situation hasn’t changed.