Philanthropists: Endow a Journal Instead of a Chair


In the comments on a previous post about a new journal, Barry Lam (Vassar) floats a brilliant idea:

How much would it cost annually to run a journal which publishes everything of high quality it receives, pays reviewers, pays authors, pays its editors, all reasonably but not extravagantly like the book presses, has beautiful type-setting, and does everything it needs to be archiveable and open access? If you take that number and multiply it by 20, that’s the endowment you would need to fund it at 5% annual spending. Would it cost $250,000? $300,000? I know many endowed chairs at fancy U that costs more than that. And this would be a service to the entire field. And far more people would hear about the Paul E Newman Journal of Philosophy over time than any of these endowed chairs. I’d venture plenty of you would publish in the Charles Koch Journal of Political Philosophy if it meant shutting down Elsevier. I wonder why we as a field aren’t fundraising for such things, and then eventually just close down all the for-profit journals.

Philosophy-minded philanthropists, are you listening?

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Aaron V Garrett
3 months ago

Dear philanthropists,

Please endow our journal! In payment we promise you many open access articles on early modern philosophy!

Yours,

The EditorsReport

Aeon Skoble
Reply to  Aaron V Garrett
3 months ago

Or we could go back to print journals that you could subscribe to for 30 bucks if you didn’t feel like going to the library.Report

Kevin
3 months ago

Interesting idea.

A philosopher or philosophy department with a exceptionally strong relationship with a donor or community of donors could pull this off if they wanted to. But this is a rare scenario, and those in this position are more likely to prioritize funding chairs, visiting professorships, scholarships–i.e., to build the strengths of their research and their department–than start an open access journal.

So what to do if you’re not already cozy with extreme wealth?

In my experience working in university fundraising, today’s philanthropists are almost never interested in advancing discourse in a field as broad as philosophy or even (as suggested above) political philosophy. Rather, they are interested in particular, unique, focused, and promising approaches to “making the world a better place.”

One could make the case that a highly-focused philosophy journal will do that if it promises to facilitate a conversation that we (broadly, the “we” of society) desparately need in order to address some dire problem we are facing. It would need to be a conversation we’re not already having elsewhere, or one that is barely happening. And it would need to take a unique approach that is intuitively appealing to a prospective donor or donors who already care deeply about that problem. It would also need one or more leading philosophers in that area to champion the journal.

The hardest part, though, would be to justify to a donor why it needs to be remunerative and open access–the reasons why it would need to be endowed. I’ve never heard of a donor who cares or could be made to care that tenured or TT academic philosophers do some unpaid labour (sorry, don’t shoot the messenger). As for open access, if the journal is such a great idea, one could just start it the normal way and let Elsevier or whoever else profit off it. Fact is, as horrible as academic journal publishing now is, most philosophers who need access to this journal would have or manage to get access to it in all the ways we already do.

An alternate, moonshot approach might draw on some of the core arguments against the for-profit journal publishing system. Academic philosophy published in journals is a public good that is already at least in part subsizided by the public. Access to that research should be free to the public; large corporate journal publishers are parasitic and exploitative, etc. A philanthropist who resents the status quo as much as the rest of us do might be motivated to put money up to undermine it in some way. For this, the problem is finding such a donor.

Philanthropy for philosophy is tough when you don’t already have super-wealthy alumni who care about your department. Any philosophers out there who have a cool project in mind and are looking to engage donors or motivate the fundraisers in their institutions to get behind their idea should feel free to get in touch with me if they want advice.
[email protected]Report

Kevin
3 months ago

Interesting idea but it really is a tough sell.

Philanthropists want to “make the world a better place,” or at least be thought to do so. Suppose you convince a donor that the journal’s content will Make the World a Better Place. Donor will say, “If the journal is so important, what do you need me for? Just get it published!”

You still need to justify endowing it so that it is open access and compensates academics for their work on it. Hard to imagine a donor caring THAT much ($$$$$) about open access, or that academics do unpaid labour on journals. After all, it’s normal for people put in unpaid labour on projects that Make the World a Better Place.

Maybe a department with an unusually cozy relationship with a philanthropist could pull this off, but not many departments would prioritize an open acces journal over other things they might do with the money.Report

Josh
Josh
Reply to  Kevin
3 months ago

The post starts by pointing out that philanthropists regularly do make similarly ‘unimpactful’ donations (for endowed chairs bearing their names and whatnot). Why do you think this is a tougher sell?Report

Kevin
Reply to  Josh
3 months ago

A donor giving money for a named chair values the department and the work the chair will do, and believes the endowment is the best way to bring this good into the world. And of course the donor gains some prestige (and a tax break).

A journal is a different beast. A donor might value the work a journal will do, but will expect that the journal does not need an endowment to exist because, if its any good, a publisher will publish it. The journal only needs an endowment to be open access and pay academics to work on it, and these are not kinds of things that motivate major gifts and endowments (again, absent unusually cozy relationships).

An exception might be a journal that both a philosopher and a donor are very excited about even though no publisher will agree to publish it. (Not exactly a recipe for prestige, so you lose that motivation.) The only example I can think of that comes close to this is, of all things, the open access Journal of Controversial Ideas. Notice their donors are anonymous. I seriously doubt it’s endowed in any way or that they pay reviewers.Report

Mr Negative
3 months ago

The journal would regrettably need a charismatic figurehead as EIC. Philanthropists like to fund charismatic individuals with whom they can have personal relationships. This is a core function of the executive director of a large nonprofit, a university president, etc. I would worry a great deal about the safeguards on academic freedom such a journal would have; the risks there seem even greater than the risks to universities, which have well established policies and structures to maintain scholarly independence.Report

Peter
Peter
Reply to  Mr Negative
3 months ago

I’m not sure I find this plausible. First of all, I don’t think any holders of endowed professorships are buddy-buddy with the rich donor behind the name of their post. And there also aren’t any limitations, AFAIK, on the academic freedom of endowed chairs. Departments? Same thing. Also I know of no cases where, e.g., the [Fancy Name] Building at such-and-such a university has any strictures on its use from the donors. I don’t see any reason to think that donor money would limit academic freedom in a journal any more than in these kinds of cases.Report

Anon
Reply to  Peter
3 months ago

To clarify: if the journal is run through a university, I agree. If it’s an independent nonprofit, all these worries stand. (Source: some years working in the think tank biz.)Report

"Mr Negative"
"Mr Negative"
Reply to  Peter
3 months ago

To clarify, the above post pertains to the possibility of founding the journal as an independent nonprofit, which I understood to be the proposal. This reply assumes the journal will be run through a university, in which case the relevant policies and structures for preserving academic freedom would indeed be in place.Report

Jonathan Ichikawa
3 months ago

I’m not where the numbers mentioned here come from, but they don’t immediately strike me as realistic, if you’re serious about paying for the academic labour involved.

Suppose that each year one gets 500 submissions and publishes 30 papers. (That’s in line with Imprint’s norms, per their website.) If each submission gets two referees, and each referee gets, say, $50, that’s $50,000 per year right there in referee fees. You could cut that by paying less, but we very quickly start getting into “you couldn’t afford me if it weren’t pro bono” territory. (A lot of professors might willingly donate their time to a journal, but will they consent to be hired at minimum wage?)

Editorial work might feel reasonably compensated with, say, $5,000 per year per editor? Journals vary a lot in how many editors they have, but suppose you have six of those, that’s another $30,000 per year.

Suppose we also managed to spend only $500 per published paper for professional copyediting, typesetting, and archiving per published paper. At 30 publications that’s $15,000.

Say an extra $5,000 per year for things we’re not thinking about (and to make the math rounder) — web portal maintenance, legal services, etc. — and our gold-standard journal costs $100K per year — so you’d need a $2M endowment.

Maybe you could cut the cost in half by doing a lot of desk-rejection and charging a submission fee, but by my back-of-the-envelope calculations, we’re still looking at a lot more than $250–300K.Report

Michel
Michel
Reply to  Jonathan Ichikawa
3 months ago

Jonathan,

I thought the 250k-300k guesstimate was being suggested for annual costs? So, an endowment of 5-6mil.?Report

Last edited 3 months ago by Michel
Barry Lam
Reply to  Jonathan Ichikawa
3 months ago

I definitely meant 300k annual cost for $6million endowment. I was guesstimating the typical endowed chair’s salary as a comparison point.Report

Jonathan Ichikawa
Reply to  Barry Lam
3 months ago

Oh! Sorry for misunderstandingReport

ndjfl
3 months ago

For department-sponsored journals, the Notre Dame Journal of Formal Logic might be an example: https://ndjfl.nd.eduReport

Paul
3 months ago

I’d prefer to see graduate students not be severely rent burdened via a fundraising effort than getting yet another journal–especially one that if I publish in it the publication won’t matter for job prospects since the journal is not Mind or Nous or Phil Studies or whatever else.Report