Stanford pursues talks to save academic press after criticism

University threat to cut $1.7 million annual subsidy generates widespread protest

April 29, 2019
Stanford University
Source: iStock
Stanford University

Amid widespread protests, Stanford University has agreed to talks with leaders of Stanford University Press over a threatened withdrawal of funding seen as “likely fatal” for one of the US’ premier academic presses.

Stanford, with a $26.5 billion (£20.5 billion) endowment – the world’s third-largest – told its faculty senate last week that the $1.7 million annual subsidy was proving too much in a “very tight budget year”.

The university began providing the allocation three years ago with the understanding that the assistance would not be permanent, Stanford’s provost, Persis Drell, told the senate.

But defenders of the press, both within and beyond the campus, have argued that university publishing is understood not to be profitable.

“If we use a purely financial metric to assess the value of academic books, the scholarly mission of the academy will be lost,” more than 700 Stanford faculty, students, staff and alumni said in an open letter of protest.

A similar number of people from outside Stanford have signed a companion letter with the same message, saying that ending the “modest annual subsidy” will “cripple the press with likely fatal results”.

Professor Drell said in her statement that Stanford had only approved the subsidy as a temporary move “with the assurance from the press that this would be a bridge to a self-sustaining future”.

But university administrators have prohibited the press from soliciting its own major donors, the Chronicle of Higher Education reported. Without the subsidy, it quoted editorial board member and law professor Richard Thompson Ford as saying that the press would begin “a death spiral”.

Stanford University Press is the oldest academic press in the western US, having been established as one of the institution’s founding principles in the late 19th century. It has a staff of 35 and generates about $5 million in revenue from publishing about 130 to 135 books a year, its director, Alan Harvey, told the Chronicle.

A Stanford University spokesman told the student newspaper, The Stanford Daily, that leaders of the Stanford University Libraries and Stanford University Press have begun talks on ways to create a sustainable business model for the publisher.

paul.basken@timeshighereducation.com

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Reader's comments (1)

A very tight budget year that will see how much reduction to the football program?

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