Interim director resigns; a former director returns; dismissed top leaders now rehired.
UPDATE: In less than two weeks, four top managers left Wayne State University Press, its organizational position within the university structure was changed and a previous interim director was returned to her post. Now, almost everyone has their job back.
The organizational upheaval began when Annie Martin, editor-in-chief, and two other top managers — Kristen Harpster and Emily Nowak — were dismissed without public explanation on Feb. 7. Their firing sparked intense opposition from Press authors, scholars and other supporters, as well as its Editorial Board, an appointed WSU faculty group that provides editorial guidance for the Press.
In response to the backlash, WSU President M. Roy Wilson took on direct responsibility for the University Press through his chief of staff, Michael Wright. He is vice president of marketing and communications and supervises WDET, the university-affiliated public radio station.
The Press previously reported to Jon Cawthorne, Ph.D., dean of the University Library System and School of Information Sciences. The Press has longtime connections to the Jewish community through its early donors and its wide catalog of books on Jewish topics.
On Feb. 19, Kathryn Wildfong, interim editor of the Press until last year when she retired, was re-appointed to that post by Wright, replacing Tara Reeser, interim director, who resigned earlier that week.
Two days later, Wildfong hired back the three dismissed managers.
The 17-member University Press Editorial Board issued a statement of support after these changes.
“We appreciate President Wilson’s support of the Press and his decision to place it in the Office of the President under the supervision of Michael Wright,” the statement reads.
“Michael has assured us that he is working to restore trust. To that end, we welcome Kathryn Wildfong back as interim director and look forward to the hiring of a permanent director. We are hopeful about the future of the Press. Members of the Board will remain vigilant as we advocate for authors, staff and the community served by the Press.”
The new wrinkle in the personnel shifts came Feb. 21, when Wright announced that “Wayne State’s University Press, under the leadership of Interim Director Kathryn Wildfong, has reinstated Kristin Harpster, Annie Martin and Emily Nowak to their former positions.
“We are confident that the reinstatement of these critical employees will best serve the University Press’s important mission, and we are resolved to refocus and re-energize the Press team toward this purpose.”
The trio resumed their positions Feb. 25.
Matthew Lockwood, WSU’s director of communication, said that Wright “is meeting with people and getting up to speed. He wants to get their input and is working to fill the slots. There is a lot of hope there.”
Lockwood said that WSU officials can’t discuss personnel matters, including the three dismissals or Reeser’s resignation. He said that officials are “discussing options” regarding staffing. Lockwood said that Press authors have been contacted by members of its Editorial Board about the changes.
Harvey Ovshinsky of Ann Arbor, an award-winning producer, director and author who attended Wayne State and taught there, said he was initially very concerned about the dismissals of the top three managers because he has a book in production at the Press. He had met with Martin and Nowak the day before they were initially dismissed from the organization.
“They were the heart and soul of Wayne State University Press, and that’s why I went there,” he said.
Ovshinsky was the founder of The Fifth Estate, Detroit’s first counter-culture newspaper. He describes his book as a memoir covering his “55 years of multimedia storytelling since age 17 and teaching others how to tell stories. It will be a manual for people on creativity and how to make a living telling stories.” Ovshinsky researched multiple university presses before choosing the Press to publish his book.
“Wayne State University Press has a reputation among authors and creative people and those interested in books about African Americans, Jewish studies, Michigan culture and Detroit culture. It’s a great fit,” he said. His book is now in the copyediting phase.
Ovshinsky said he was heartened that President Wilson took over administrative responsibility for the Press and “relieved” that Wildfong, whom he trusts, has returned to her former position.
Wayne State University Press publishes 35 to 40 titles annually, including both general interest and more specialized topics along with 11 journals. Five of its books were recently named “2020 Michigan Notable Books” by the Library of Michigan.