Case Study: Getting Universities to Host Academic Journals

A collage of men and women of different races and ethnicities.
The JAF editorial team that will serve through 2023.

Academic journals rely on financial commitments from universities in order to be viable since they do not generate enough revenue to support themselves. In 2019, the folklore faculty at George Mason University (GMU) applied to serve as the editorial team for the Journal of American Folklore (JAF). In this case study, Lisa Gilman and Deb Shutika describe how they were able to get the support they needed to host the journal. 

Getting Universities to Host Academic Journals

Need for Advocacy

Academic journals do not generate enough revenue to support themselves. They typically rely on societies or universities for support along with volunteer and unpaid labor. Many universities are no longer motivated to support journals, though they continue to require faculty, students, and staff to publish in them.

Case Study

The Journal of American Folklore [JAF] has historically been supported jointly by the American Folklore Society and the university where the journal editors are employed. The typical editorship term is 5-years; thus, every five years, a new institution is asked to take on partial support.

The folklore faculty at George Mason University (GMU) applied to serve as the editorial team in 2019. For the faculty to take on this role, university support was required, specifically the College of Humanities and Social Sciences [CHSS]. A host university’s responsibility typically includes: space, sometimes equipment (use of printers, phones, etc.), course release(s) for editor(s), and support for graduate editorial assistant.

Asking for money

Lisa Gilman, as the prospective Editor-in-Chief, and Deb Shutika, as the director of the Folklore Program and the head of the English Department, the home department of the folklore program faculty, took the lead in seeking support from the dean. Prior to our meeting, Deb and Lisa met to strategize, critical for determining what we needed and for developing through strategies.

Setting the stage

As Department head, Deb emailed the dean to explain the situation and ask if it was appropriate to move forward. She strategically explained that universities “typically provide a 20 hour/week editorial assistant and one course release for the editor,” as previous universities who hosted JAF had done. She also mentioned that the associate editors would serve without compensation (the assoc. editors had already committed to taking on this role). This language indicated that we knew our request was appropriate and we expressed generosity/good citizenship in offering staffing of associate editors without asking the dean for anything.

How much to ask for?

  1. We came up with two scenarios: the minimum that we needed and what would be ideal:
    1. Ideal: [Total Cost: $41,000]
      1. Course release for Lisa as editor
      2. 12 month/20 hr. week support for a Graduate Assistant (package includes tuition, etc.)
      3. Editorial assistant
      4. Space
    2. Acceptable: [Total Cost: $20,500]
      1. Course release for Lisa as editor
      2. 12 month/20 hr. week hourly support for a graduate student
      3. Space
  2. We shared both scenarios. Yet, we emphasized rational for the ideal option.
  3. Deb offered that the English Department would allocate a GA from its pool for the next year, so the college wouldn’t have to take the responsibility until the year after.

The Outcome

  • The dean agreed to support the journal at the ideal level.
  • However, she only committed to 3 years rather than the 5 requested.
  • She also indicated that there was no available space.


  • Relationships: Already having good relationships and being known as a team player, generous colleague, and someone willing to compromise going into the negotiation is invaluable!
  • Personalities: know the person with whom you are negotiating. Pick approaches and strategies that you think would be most effective with their personality and priorities.
  • What is the benefit to the university? Instead of asking for help, position the request as something that is beneficial to the university. In this case, we emphasized:
    • Research: The university had just been granted Research 1 status. Housing a flagship journal could help raise national and international research profile of the university.
    • Grad student support: The editorial assistant position would be an invaluable opportunity to the student(s) for skill-building, developing a professional network, and hands-on mentoring. The position could also be used for recruitment and retention of outstanding students. We emphasized the importance of the assistantship versus the hourly wage in terms of recruiting and retaining excellent students and not wanting to be exploitative.
    • Universities need academic journals: Some universities no longer consider supporting journals to be part of their mission while they rely on journals to evaluate their faculty and for the faculty’s professional activities. If universities want journals to continue to exist, they have to support them. 
    • Diversity: The journal would contribute to diversity initiatives on campus. We shared Lisa’s application that included as one of her editorial priorities: “the publication of scholarship that challenges the “canon” of U.S folklorists. Examples would be intellectual histories that center important people whose contributions have been largely overlooked, such as scholars of color or women.” Our priorities aligned with and would contribute to the university’s diversity initiatives. 
  • Accept some now and ask for more later: Though we only committed to serve for 3 years, once we have the support for three years, we can ask for smaller commitments later. 

Ongoing PR: Now that we have support, we try to make visible how our editorship is contributing to university goals, especially around diversity (big priority right now). We published a piece about JAF diversity initiatives on the George Mason Folklore Program website that we made sure to share with the dean whose staff then posted it on the college website. We will make noise around special issues, etc. If we do go back to ask for an extension beyond 3 years, we can point to JAF’s diversity initiatives as a benefit the college and university are receiving for their expense.

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