‘Philosophy Talk’ hosts worry about upcoming reduction in funding

May 14, 2015, 9:28 p.m.

“Philosophy Talk,” a Stanford-based radio talk show featuring professors of philosophy John Perry and Kenneth Taylor, is facing a funding crisis that may threaten its continuation.

While the show has been largely supported by provostial discretionary funds, which Provost John Etchemendy has allotted to “Philosophy Talk” over the past several years, Taylor and Perry anticipate that this year, the amount of money they receive will be cut in half, forcing the organization to look outwards for more donations and alternative sources of funding in order to survive.

Etchemendy explained that this money does not come from university base funding but is a separate source of financial support for student and faculty initiatives.

“I have a certain amount of provostial discretionary funds that I use to support worthy projects on a one-time (sometimes for several years) basis,” he said.

For example, in the past, he has used these funds to support projects like the Food Summit, the Solar Car Project and student theater productions such as “My Fair Lady” and “The Last Five Years.”

“These kinds of decisions are made on a year-to-year basis and are dependent on the available discretionary funds.  I try to use them to help make valuable things happen that might not otherwise see the light of day,” Etchemendy said.

The university has been supportive of “Philosophy Talk” since it began 11 years ago, when Taylor and Perry were granted the funds necessary to make a pilot and get started on the air at KLW and Oregon Public Broadcasting.

Now the show is produced weekly, and it is estimated that nearly 100,000 people hear each broadcast via the radio, free stream or podcast. In addition, “Philosophy Talk” has about 35,000 Twitter followers.

Though the show has reached this level of popularity, Taylor emphasized that finding funding has been extremely difficult.

“It turns out to be extraordinarily hard. It’s not like there’s a ton of people out there willing to give us grants to do philosophy on the radio,” Taylor said.

According to Taylor, in the beginning, the show managed to get by with a small budget, and Perry and Taylor worked for completely free.

“But at some point, it became clear to us that if the show was to grow and get better, we needed to spend more money on it,” Taylor said.

Etchemendy saw the value in the program and agreed to double funding for “Philosophy Talks.”

According to Taylor, the agreement was that funding would be doubled for three years, during which time the show would develop other sources of revenue and work towards self-sustainability.

“The idea has always been that we were going to find some kind of reliable funding source for this,” he said.

One such source of support is the show’s “Community of Thinkers” online membership program. Fans of the show can become members for $35, $75 or $250 a year and gain certain privileges.

According to Taylor, the site is slowly growing with nearly 900 partners.

However, after almost five years of increased funding from the Provost, the show is still not totally independent. According to the original arrangement, the show’s funding will be cut in half and return to a much lower level of support this year.

Taylor says that the only choice for the show now is to raise more outside money or to cut back. If they are unable to gather the necessary money, however, the show will become smaller and smaller and eventually disappear.

“We think [“Philosophy Talk” has] done a lot of good. It’s brought a lot of good will — it’s spotlighted the humanities,” Taylor said.

On a weekly basis, guest speakers are invited to participate in philosophical discussions with Perry and Taylor. The guests are often Stanford faculty or other prominent thinkers in the community.

On Friday, May 15, the show will feature former NSA employee Edward Snowden in a conversation on “The Ethics of Whistleblowing in the Age of Information.”

Although the Provost will be unable to continue supporting “Philosophy Talk” at the current level, Taylor recognizes that the university has other priorities and acknowledges the great amount of support they have received up until now.

“Without the university’s support, we wouldn’t be anywhere — we wouldn’t have gotten started at all. So we’re really extraordinarily grateful,” Taylor said.

“The university supported it really well for a long time, and now they’re saying, ‘Okay guys, time to stand on your own two feet, and so we’re desperately trying to stand on our own two feet,’” he continued.

“Philosophy Talk” will host a dinner for sponsors in May and hold a fundraising campaign throughout June.


Contact Erica Evans at elevans ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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