Stanford University To Stop Funding Its University Press (Updated)


Stanford University Provost Persis Drell has announced that the university will no longer be providing financial support to its university press, according to Inside Higher Ed and The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Many believe that without this support, Stanford University Press will have to cease operation. The press publishes around 130 books a year in various areas, including philosophy.

Some of the philosophy books published by Stanford University Press.

According to IHE,

The Stanford press actually brings in about $5 million a year in book sales, a sum that is impressive compared to sales of many scholarly publishers. But it has also depended on support from the university, which in recent years has provided $1.7 million annually. Provost Persis Drell told the Faculty Senate Thursday that the university was ending that funding. She cited a tight budget ahead, due to a smaller than anticipated payout coming from the endowment. (The endowment is worth more than $26 billion and is the fourth largest in American higher education.)

Faculty at Stanford and elsewhere have raised objections about the cuts, and a petition has been launched to encourage the Stanford administration to reconsider the funding decision. Among other things, the petition’s text compares the financial situation of the press to that of the university’s athletics program:

We note that, according to Stanford Daily, the “net annual cost [of the athletic department at Stanford] is … around $67 million.” The Stanford Athletic Department thus appears not to be “self-sustaining.” Why have you chosen to single out the University Press for this application of supposed “business models” when other units on campus similarly do not turn a profit?

Those who aren’t particularly concerned with Stanford University Press may nonetheless be worried about the precedent it sets for other schools. IHE quotes David Palumbo-Liu, a professor of comparative literature at Stanford, on this point:

If these cuts go through, it will be a terrible day for not only Stanford, but for higher education as a whole—it sends a signal that other institutions may well exploit. It is irresponsible and shameful. University presses perform both an institutional and a public good.

(Thanks to Zoltan Somhegyi for prompting a post on this.)

UPDATE (5/1/19): Stanford University Provost Persis Drell, acknowledging objections to her plan, has agreed to extend funding to Stanford University Press of up to $1.7 million for the next year as it figures out a “a financial model for the press that is sustainable.” Details at Inside Higher Ed.


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Jon Light
Jon Light
1 year ago

When people say that, e.g., an athletic program loses $50M, how is that calculated? Say it’s the (direct) revenues of the athletic program, minus the expenses. It’s hard to see how *that* would adequately capture the “value” of the athletic programs because they’d have all sorts of other (indirect) effects, such as student enrollments.

Or even legislature appropriations–which could be directly or indirectly tied to sports (i.e., it could just be “we’ll give you $X because [whatever]” where [whatever] is partially owes to the branding effects of sports. And say that’s not just student enrollments, but like buying sweatshirts online, where part of that licensing is returned to the university.)

At large state schools, this seems like it’d be a big deal. Pick a place like Nebraska: plenty of non-athletes go there because of the “brand” the sports have created, and sports are probably a reason they choose to go there over other public schools. (To be sure, this is not a relevant consideration at Stanford.)

And then, what about all the beer money college football games throw into the community? What about the endowment dollars such things drive?

I mean these as substantive questions: can anyone direct me to something to look at? My suspicion is that the economic value of sports programs is substantially underweighted (e.g., a $50M loss isn’t really a $50M loss, but partially offset by things people aren’t really considering). As an economics problem, maybe some of these features are harder to figure out, but I doubt they’re completely intractable. Rather, anyone citing an economic “loss” by a sports program tends to be ideologically biased against sports’ funding and would generally be incentivized to construe revenues narrowly–by which I don’t mean disingenuously, just myopically.

Anyway, none of this has to do with Stanford’s press, but targets a more general feature of the dialectic. Thanks for any pointers!Report

June
June
Reply to  Jon Light
1 year ago

I would say that the same can be said of a university press. It increases the reputation of the school in ways that cannot be quantified when viewed myopically.Report

/sarcasm/
/sarcasm/
Reply to  Jon Light
1 year ago

One hesitates to think what would happen to Stanford’s reputation and its attraction for students without its athletic program. Truly a brave new world.Report

Crista
Crista
Reply to  Jon Light
1 year ago

The brand argument doesn’t make any sense for Stanford; they already have a great reputation as a school for serious academics, and they command tuition rates even while being extremely selective to prove it. They don’t have to create an artificial draw with a sports “brand”. If anything, emphasizing sports is likely to undermine their target market i.e. nerds who tend to be ideologically biased against sports funding. Report

JL
JL
Reply to  Crista
1 year ago

I think the above post pretty clearly says the argument doesn’t have to do anything to do with Stanford (twice, actually), but is rather a more general question and an inquiry for useful sources, as opposed to /sarcasm/.

I can’t imagine a University press moves the needle much in any direction at all (economically), but, again, any references welcome. Report

Crista
Crista
Reply to  JL
1 year ago

Apologies, I read your comment within the context of the article, although, I confess that by asking for references for University Presses moving needles, I think my interpretation was not unwarranted.

To answer your question as to the needle movement on a University press, I can only give the same generalities that you’ve given me; people who are serious academics look for avenues of getting published, and a university press affords them a more accessible avenue for that, generally. Report

Nicholas Denyer
Nicholas Denyer
Reply to  JL
1 year ago

In the last year for which I have figures, Cambridge University Press made enough money to transfer £3.1m to what the accounts call “Academic University”.
Report

Matt
Reply to  Nicholas Denyer
1 year ago

Nicholas – do you know how much of that is due to the (no doubt much more lucrative) text book trade that CUP is involved in? CUP produces text books of all sorts (including lots of regularly used TEFL books and law books, among others, I’m sure) that are fairly high margin and widely used. I would be very surprised if this isn’t the source of most, perhaps all, of the profit of the press, but it wouldn’t provide much of a model for other academic presses that are not in this trade (and likely have no way to get into it.)

Note that I don’t think there’s anything wrong with this practice in general (though some of the textbooks have very high, arguably unreasonable, prices), but if this is the source of the profit for CUP, then it would be a hard thing for many other presses to imitate. Report

nicholas denyer
nicholas denyer
Reply to  Matt
1 year ago

Text books, and bibles, are said to be very profitable lines for the Cambridge University Press. Just how profitable is not clear from the online abstracts of accounts, and may not be clear even from the full accounts to be had on application. But you are certainly right to suggest that the business model of the CUP, and its profits, are not easily imitated.

Report

sahpa
sahpa
Reply to  Crista
1 year ago

What makes the draw ‘artificial’?

Also: I don’t know which nerds you hang with, but all my people are thoroughly into sports. And, like all good nerds, they love them *hard* and with data to back it up.Report

Jonathan Livengood
Jonathan Livengood
Reply to  Jon Light
1 year ago

There’s a *ton* of literature on the economics of college sports. Some of it published in the Journal of Sports Economics. Lots of models trying to figure out, for example, what the effects of good football or basketball programs (or specific achievements, such as appearing in a bowl game or winning a championship) are on enrollments and donations. There is some evidence for positive effects on enrollments and on donations, but mostly, the evidence is mixed. And the conversation among non-economists often overlooks all-important opportunity costs. Anyway, if you’re interested in a starting point in the literature, I like Getz and Siegfried’s paper “What Does Intercollegiate Athletics Do To or For Colleges and Universities?” Available here: http://www.accessecon.com/pubs/vuecon/vu10-w05.pdfReport

kcw
kcw
Reply to  Jonathan Livengood
1 year ago

And thus, couldn’t (and shouldn’t) this “positive income” from sports (entirely unrelated to undergraduate education) subsidize the press, given that it is only about 1.5% of its tangible income?Report

Jonathan Livengood
Jonathan Livengood
Reply to  kcw
1 year ago

I’m sure I wasn’t clear enough. I think that on balance, there’s not much reason to think that having a good sports team has much, if any impact on either enrollments or on donations. There is *some* evidence for such effects. But the overall evidence is not strongly in support of such a view. More importantly, if sports boosters want to hang their hats on knock-on effects, they need to think seriously about opportunity costs: they need to ask, inter alia, “What would the effect on enrollment and donations be if we spent the money we spend on sports on something else, like recruitment or ‘advancement’ or scholarships or …?”

I don’t think any of the money spent on intercollegiate athletics is justified. But I don’t really want to get into a debate about that. I just happened to have read some of the economics literature relevant to the question of the knock-on effects of big-time sports programs and thought it was worth mentioning what I take to be a good, representative piece.Report

ajkreider
ajkreider
1 year ago

A couple of points. Athletics programs are (or are supposed to be) student-centered activities. One shouldn’t expect them to be self-supporting any more than theater groups or musical ensembles. In this era of big money sports, it’s only men’s basketball and football that could make any claim to being self-sustaining. Women’s swimming or men’s golf, not so much. But, these others (like theater, etc.) are supposed to complement the academic enterprise to create the well-rounded person. It’s not clear how much the press fits that goal.

The (often money-losing) vanity programs of football and basketball provide indirect support from donors. To my knowledge, most schools don’t count donations to the sports programs as revenue to the program, and they certainly don’t count general fund donations as part of the sports program. These donations can be in the tens of millions on an annual basis – funds that might not exist without the vanity programs.

None of this is to suggest that Stanford can’t find a couple of million to support a very worthwhile press.Report

krell_154
krell_154
Reply to  ajkreider
1 year ago

”But, these others (like theater, etc.) are supposed to complement the academic enterprise to create the well-rounded person. It’s not clear how much the press fits that goal.”

Yes, it is indeed hard to see how a university press, publishing scientific literature, could help someone at that university (or other universities) in complementing their academic enterprise…Report

Almost Self-identical
Almost Self-identical
1 year ago

Assume that Stanford would be doing a great disservice (to its own brand, or to academic life in general, or to whatever) by no longer subsidizing its press. Is that a greater bad than Brown or USC, or U of Maryland, … has been doing all along in failing to maintain an academic press in the first place?

This dialectic seems to play out frequently. School X announces that it intends to reduce or stop offering something philosophers like — or, at least, something that employs them. Lots of attempted public shaming for them, on blogs like this one. Meanwhile Y and Z, schools that have long been doing what X wants to start to do now, continue their status quo without backlash.

Wikipedia says that there are currently 106 academic presses in the US. I’m not sure I know why 105 would be such a worse number.

Report

Jc
Jc
Reply to  Almost Self-identical
1 year ago

There’s a reason that Stanford is a more prestigious school than the two you mentioned, and the press is part of that. Also, the press doesn’t employ philosophers—not sure what your point is there.Report

sahpa
sahpa
1 year ago

How important *is* SUP to academia? It seems to be nothing compared to OUP, PUP, CUP, etc. for philosophy at least. Defendants of SUP’s indispensability should probably hedge their arguments against loss aversion, by the way. Justin mentions the worrisome ‘precedent’ this might set for other schools, but my question still presses there. If SUP isn’t all that important, its defunding won’t obviously set a precedent for presses that actually are important.Report