Two well-regarded journals of 19th-century American literature based at Washington State University that were threatened with the loss of state financing have been thrown a lifeline by the universityâ€™s leadership.
And, their editors say, they hope to use the reprieve to call for a national discussion of the future of academic journals. The editors have outlined a range of innovative proposals to bolster their and other “at risk” publications.
In July, campus administrators said that, due to â€śdevastatingâ€ť state budget cuts, the two journals would have to find their own financing if the publications were to survive.
The two long-running journalsâ€”ESQ: A Journal of the American Renaissance and Poe Studies: History, Theory, Interpretationâ€”are based at WSUâ€™s English Department. ESQ is a flagship journal for studies of antebellum and other 19th-century American literary culture. Poe Studies, an annual publication, also enjoys a reputation as a key publication in American literary scholarship.
When WSU administrators announced the changes in financial support for the journals, several hundred supporters asked university administrators to reconsider because the universityâ€™s plan would leave the journals without pay for editors. Supporters also urged the university to reaffirm that journals were a primary means of academic peer review. About 800 people, for example, signed a petition from C19: The Society of 19th Century Americanists that pressed for retention of financial support. The international Council of Editors of Learned Journals echoed those sentiments, too.
The councilâ€™s recent president, Jana L. Argersinger, is the co-editor of both WSU journals, as publications editor at WSUâ€™s department of English. Now, Argersinger says, she and other editors of the two journals have been told that they likely will get to keep most of their financing, although the university will gradually phase it out over three years. During that time, the journalsâ€™ editors will have to find additional support from wherever they can. Argersinger edits Poe Studies with Scott Peeples, of the College of Charleston, and ESQ with Augusta Rohrbach, a WSU colleague.
While replacing such support would be challenging, and more so for humanities journals than for those in other disciplines such as in the sciences, where authors commonly pay for publication, it can be done, Argersinger said, in an interview. An obvious way to cut costs is to reduce production expenses, while she and her colleagues will seek to increase income through grant and donor support. They also will raise subscription rates and seek to raise more money by selling content on the journalsâ€™ online distributor, Project MUSE, and the journalsâ€™ own WSU websites.
â€śThe first year, weâ€™ll have to contribute 30 percent of our costs,â€ť she said. â€śWe can easily cover that, as we have raised subscription rates some, already, for some cushion.â€ť The journalsâ€™ rates have been â€śsubstantially under market.”Â Argersinger and her colleagues have already raised subscription rates about 20 percent since the summer. â€śThat will realize quite a bit,” she said. Poe Studies is published by Wiley-Blackwell and costs $37 for individual subscriptions and $141 for institutional subscriptions. WSUâ€™s English department publishes ESQ and makes it available through Project Muse for $45 for individuals and $100 for institutions.
Over the longer term, Argersinger said, she and her colleagues will try to introduce changes that will address issues that many academic journals face. They are, for example, urging editors of the universityâ€™s several other journals to join them in forming a central editorial-support office to achieve economies of scale. â€śThere is an unrealized community there,â€ť said Argersinger, and she has received encouraging responses from its potential members. She has spoken with the university’s librarians about the idea, and they had responded well too, she said. One possibility might be that the library, with its large investment in journal subscriptions, would house an editorial pool that would include graduate-student editorial assistants who would both provide a more streamlined work flow and also receive enhanced training in editorship.
More ambitiously, Argersinger and Tanya Gonzales, the department of English’s publications coordinator, will approach campus officials with the idea of developing a Center for Scholarly Publishing and Editing in the Digital Age that would work with humanities-journal editors and institutions outside WSU to develop new financial models for journals. Its ultimate purpose, she said, would be to work with humanities editors and institutions across the country to investigate such ideas as creating a national bank to which research universities would contribute as part of their commitment to, and requirement of, publication as a part of scholarly activity. Such a pool might provide not only support for existing journals, but also seed money for deserving new ones.
â€śThere is inequity in terms of how universities support journalsâ€”some support them, some donâ€™t,â€ť she said. â€śResearch I universities require publication, so ideologically, those universities should contribute to that.â€ť That sentiment was widely reflected in the hundreds of letters that were sent in support of her two journals, she said. â€śMany of them touched on or expressed concern that [funding cuts] are a trend. There was also broader concern about the declining valuing of work in the humanities. Ours is not one local, singular example. There are a lot of at-risk journals across the country.â€ť
George Kennedy, who is the chair of the English Department at WSU, where he has taught for 32 years, said that journals contribute to academic life â€śin ways that are significant and beneficial and central enough to our intellectual mission and educational mission that not to support them would be shortsighted. It would just be contrary to what I think need to be the support systems that departments like ours should commit to.
â€śJournalsâ€™ quality is largely determined by the caliber of editing that goes on, and that caliber canâ€™t be maintained without the personnel in placeâ€”Jana or people like her.â€ť