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Studying Humanities in Higher Education

By Ron Southwick

July 7, 1999

The Trenton Times, 1999

All rights reserved.

Reprinted with permission.

PRINCETON, NJ-- As Director of the Princeton University Center for Arts and Cultural Policy Studies, Stanley Katz wants his center to do what the federal government doesnít do.

Specifically, Katz said, there is no national effort going on to study the teaching of the humanities Ė history, English, foreign languages Ė in higher education.

And, he said, no agency collects data detailing how National Endowment for the Humanities grants are being used, how many women and minorities enter the field or how many grant recipients produce books.

The Princeton center was founded five years ago but only recently secured the grant money to fund serious studies. But Katz, a professor at Princeton, would like a little help from the NEH, the federal research arm that funds such studies.

"They just donít think itís important," Katz laments.

The NEH provides funding for everything from museums and libraries to authors and filmmakers. The agency also offers one-year grants to scholars for research and writing.

But unlike other funding agencies such as the National Science Foundation or the National Endowment for the Arts, the NEH has largely stopped compiling studies of how its money is used. The NEH, which wants $152 million from Congress this year, says it wants to do such studies but must also consider what is more important: funding a museum or gathering statistics.

Supporting museums and professorships are worthy goals, Katz says. But Katz says without any real collection of data, it is impossible to truly decide how to best spend money on humanities.

"Thatís like a company saying it will stop investing in research and development because it has to produce so many widgets," Katz said. "What happens when people stop buying widgets?"

Katz served as president of the American Council of Learned Societies, the nationís chief humanities organization, for 15 years. He is well known in the humanities community for criticizing the NEHís lack of policy studies. He sees his center as taking steps to pursue research that isn't being done.

As its name suggests, Princetonís Center for Arts and Cultural Policy Studies supports both humanities and the arts. Most funding for the Princeton center comes from two private sources: the Pew Charitable Trusts of Philadelphia and the Andrew Mellon Foundation in New York.

The Princeton center is designed to train graduate students in arts and cultural policy analysis. The center supports 15 graduate students doing research on such topics as the relation of philanthropy and the arts and the impact of the Internet on arts and culture. The center also supports faculty members who want to develop courses on cultural policy.

In addition, the center is working on developing a central databank of resources for studying arts and cultural policy. The Princeton center completed a review of available data sources on arts organizations for the National Endowment for the Arts.

But Katz said more studies need to be devoted to the humanities. And he said the NEH must fund such studies.

The NEH has suffered huge funding cuts in recent years, making such data collection difficult. The agency gets 36 percent less money than it did in 1995. Republicans in Congress that year proposed eliminating the agency altogether but that idea was scrapped.

At its peak in 1995, the NEH had received $172 million. Last year, the agencyís budget was $110.7 million. Programs supporting libraries, museums and grants to support scholars were cut.

"Virtually all of the areas of the endowment were affected," said Jeff Thomas, the NEHís director of strategic planning. "Our ability to fund basic research in the humanities has been curtailed."

At its peak in the 1990s, the NEH spent more than $700,000 on policy studies, according to the agency's statistics. Today, that number has fallen to $50,000.

"With a substantial budget cutback, it cut back the amount we have been able to fund for data collection," said Thomas.

The NEH is reviewing a report by James Herbert, the NEHís director of research and education programs, that advocates spending more effort on collecting data on humanities studies.

Thomas said the National Science Foundation helps the agency produce studies on how many new graduates get degrees in the humanities. And the U.S. Department of Education does some studies to collect the numbers of full-time faculty in the humanities. But the government has stopped doing many studies of what those faculty are doing.

For nearly 20 years, the NEH compiled comprehensive surveys of all faculty teaching in the humanities to see what they were teaching and what research they were doing. The studies, which began in 1977, stopped in 1995.

Katz can cite one prime example of the NEHís decline in support. He sought funding to support a joint study with the University of Maryland on the impact of the Internet on culture.

The Princeton center received the funding - from the National Science Foundation. Since the center is trying to compile statistics to see who uses the Internet to find information on arts and literature, the NSF gave money to accumulate the data. The NSF is anxious to fund statistical surveys, Katz explained.

NEH officials point to the work they are doing to support existing programs while expanding services. The NEH has given grants to such projects as filmmaker Ken Burnsí documentaries "The Civil War" and "Baseball" widely seen on public television.

Since 1995, the NEH has given $14.2 million in grants to programs based in New Jersey. The agency has recently begun a partnership with the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation to promote the teaching of the humanities in public schools.

The Dodge Foundation has given $80,000 to expand curriculum and develop summer seminars for teaching in the humanities.

"Weíre hoping this will be a model for the rest of the nation," said Roberta Heine, director of public affairs for the NEH.

Katz said funding on a national and local level to support the humanities is more difficult. While he said he is generally happy with Princeton Universityís support of humanities studies, the faculty in the humanities donít get the funding that professors in the sciences receive.

Unlike biology or engineering professors who can secure grants and funding for projects that could yield cutting-edge inventions Ė and substantial profits Ė the benefits of supporting studies in history and foreign languages arenít as easy to quantify.

However, Katz said that doesnít make the study of the humanities any less important. He wants the Princeton center to promote studies of the humanities while also showing how such studies affect people in their everyday lives.

"We donít make discoveries of DNA," Katz said. "We make discoveries of the human soul."

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