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NHA Data Shows Decline In Funding for Humanities Researchers

From the National Humanities Alliance News, 2/26/10

“The humanities continue to play a core role in higher education and student interest is strong, but to meet the demand, four-year colleges and universities are increasingly relying on a part-time, untenured workforce. Those are among the findings from the Humanities Departmental Survey, conducted by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (AAAS) and a consortium of disciplinary associations. The survey, administered during the 2007-2008 academic year, includes data collected from English, foreign language, history, history of science, art history, linguistics, and religion departments at approximately 1,400 colleges and universities.

“The Humanities Indicators include data covering humanities education from primary school through the graduate level; the humanities workforce; humanities funding and research; and the humanities in civic life. Modeled after the National Science Board’s Science and Engineering Indicators, the Humanities Indicators serve as a resource to help scholars, policymakers, and the public assess the current state of the humanities.”

In The Landscape of Humanities Research and Funding, Alan Brinkley of Columbia University writes about the paucity of humanities research funding at the NEH, where the big chunk (32%) was as usual disbursed to state humanities agencies for public programs. This NEH funding pie chart from 2006 shows that just 13.3% of $138.3 million was allocated for individual and collaborative humanities researchers at IHEs and similar institutions.The rest goes to museums, historical societies, libraries, ethnic and cultural awareness programs, teacher training, reading promotion, and other public activities. And that $138 million represents just 3% of National Science Foundation funding ($5B) and barely 0.5% of the National Institutes for Health funding ($30B). Furthermore, when adjusted for inflation, the NEH budget is  approximately 1/3 of its 1975 level.

Brinkley concedes that most humanists do not require “enormous investments” in  infrastructure that support scientists, engineers, and certain social sciences; most can do their research with access to archives and research libraries. But libraries are dealing with declining support from their university budgets, and are budgeting less for monographs in part because they must spend more on the priciest serial subscriptions–which tend to be in scientific, medical, and engineering fields. If humanists–the paupers of the research university–are suffering something like the ‘hidden injuries of class’ relative to their wealthier peers/departments in other disciplines, then the eroding support to their area of the research libraries adds insult to that injury. The research-funding and salary disparities between the humanities on one hand, and the professions  and the sciences on the other (upper) hand, are often justified by non-humanists in two basic ways: 1/higher salaries for faculty in law, business, and architecture (e.g.) are driven by private-market comparisons; 2/external funding in the sciences and schools of education often cover equipment, staff, and other overhead expenses, not to mention a percentage of faculty salaries). Brinkley does not argue with those apologists;  he repeats the claim that the humanities should not to be devalued for their lack of “usefulness” but that their value is fundamental–a source of values and knowledge, both moral and practical. He does not, however, hypothesize a new monetary metric that might reflect that fundamental value–and promote a restructuring of federal research percentages to the benefit of the NEH and the scholars it serves.

Brinkley concludes with something like a worried man’s song about the next decade in the humanities: “What impact does this impoverished funding landscape have on the health of the humanities? The data in this study do not reveal much about the consequences of its findings, now or in the future. Most outward signs suggest that humanists continue to thrive despite the lack of resources. Humanistic fields continue to create important and often pathbreaking scholarship and to offer challenging and popular courses to students. Top Ph.D. programs in the humanities, as well as jobs in humanistic fields, have no shortage of qualified applicants. The question that should concern us is not so much how the humanities are doing now but how they will be doing over the next decade. The financial crisis of 2008 is a very serious immediate threat to all academic pursuits, and perhaps a long-term threat as well.”

Interestingly, Brinkley does not propose that the digital humanities offer a way for the humanities to claim an increasingly fair share of the research infrastructure–the phrase “digital humanities” never occurs in his essay. His Big-Picture focus perhaps precludes zooming in on the sole forward-looking area in the humanities. But if the levels of NEH support remain relatively stagnant compared to NSF and NIH–and nothing suggests those levels will rise–, funding for digital humanities research at IHEs will be at best a minor bright spot in a general funding overcast. It is up to digital humanists, then, and their supporters at MacArthur and Mellon, at the ACLS and the ODH, and in their own organizations like HASTAC and the NHA, to make the case for changing federal funding metrics for cutting-edge humanities research.

The NHA, seeing the 2009 success of arts lobbyists in securing $50 million in stimulus funding for the NEA, continues to lobby for significant increases to the NEH budget. Their current proposal to Congress calls for $60 million to stimulate new teaching positions for recent doctoral degree recipients entering the academic workforce. Specifically, it seeks funding for “at least 200 two-year fellowships awarded per year (beginning 2010) to generate 400 temporary, two-year faculty positions over a three-year period (800 FTEs).” The NHA estimates a shortage of  1000 jobs per year for humanities PhDs entering the academic workforce through 2013.

Modeled on the ACLS New Faculty Fellows initiative launched in 2009, the proposed program would serve as a bridge to permanent employment for recent PhD recipients, and encourage retention of higher faculty levels at the host institution for the long run.


2 Responses

  1. I am a professor of philosophy at Lebanese University … I share the same concerns as the author–more specifically, on the side of philosophy…. I’m really thinking about solutions.

  2. […] of which went to the STEM research. Meanwhile the National Endowment for the Humanities gets about 3% of the funding that the National Science Foundation gets. And most of that humanities money goes not to […]

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