The APA’s Free-Rider Problem


American Philosophical Association (APA) Chairperson Cheshire Calhoun (ASU), at the Blog of the APA, writes:

What the APA does for philosophy and philosophers gets done in virtue of the hard work of hundreds of members. All told, more than 200 individuals graciously volunteer their time and expertise in serving on APA committees and task forces, on divisional program committees and executive committees, as editors or associate editors of the J-APA and Blog of the APA, and on the Board of Officers. Many more volunteer their service to the governance and work of the three APA divisions. Nine staff members plus the executive director in the National Office oversee the operations of the APA. The APA operates in a highly participatory, collaborative, and consultative way. To take one example: When the APA issues a public statement or letter, typically a lot of people are involved in that process, including members of relevant committees. I invite you to take 10 minutes to see what people are on the committees, on task forces, on the Board of Officers, and in editorial positions. Send someone a little thank you note for serving our profession. And the next time you read or hear someone say, “The APA should…,” take a moment to think about which among your professional colleagues serving the APA are likely to be called upon to help implement that “should.”

And now for the hardest part—free riding. There was a day when people were proud to be members of a scholarly organization. There was also a day when APA membership meant access to newsprint issues of JFP and hard copies of newsletters, as well as access to widely used placement services. The internet and interviewing by teleconference have changed that. Moreover, in order to serve the profession broadly, there is now virtually open access to the many resources provided at the APA website. The APA now faces a free rider problem where individuals benefit directly or indirectly from what the APA does (or more accurately, from what the 200-plus people serving the APA do) but do not pay dues in return. Some people also free ride by attending (and sometimes also presenting) but not registering for a divisional meeting, despite registration being required.

Despite being the world’s largest professional organization for philosophy, we are still quite small and have a small endowment by comparison to the American Historical Association, American Sociological Association, and Modern Language Association. So the next time you see on a blog or hear a colleague say “The APA should…” do something that requires money—such as support a summer institute or do data collection—take a moment to think about where that money comes from. The next time you benefit, or your colleagues or your students benefit, from something the APA financially supports, again, think about where that money comes from. It comes from the dues members pay, the registration fees meeting attendees pay, and the donations members and others send to support the APA’s work.

In short, while many people contribute their time and money to help the APA do what it does, many more people who benefit from the APA do not—even in contexts in which they are explicitly required to.

Thoughts about this problem, and possible ways to remedy it welcome.

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