University Business - July 2006 - (Page 24)

VIEWPOINT Taking the Pulse of the Humanities The federal government should play a greater role in tracking humanities indicators. By Richard Ekman I But, he said, the federal budget planning T IS VERY GOOD NEWS THAT process required so much lead time that it the American Academy of Arts and would be close to two years before NEH Sciences AAAS has received fund- could devote staff or funds to this func- ing from the Andrew W. Mellon Founda- tion. At the time, the Mellon Foundation tion for its Humanities Indicators project. agreed to jump-start the data collection ef- Without baseline information about the fort with the understanding that it would state of the humanities and systematic be transferred to NEH once the budget tracking of changes over time, no in- had been secured, probably in two years. formed planning is possible by liberal arts Arnita Jones, then at the Organiza- institutions and others concerned about tion of American Historians, and Bettina the health of these fields. At the same The humanities may Huber at the Modern Language Associa- time, the foundation's generous grant not be popular among tion were asked to make the inventory. An does not ensure the collection and pub- students, but they are advisory committee included people from lication of reliable data over time. Now is Mellon, NEH, and the National Humani- the time to address the long-term future the heart of a liberal ties Alliance. By the time the inventory was of data collection about the humanities. arts education. completed, NEH Chairman Hackney had The humanities play an especially large been replaced by William Ferris. Although regularly. The Bureau of Labor Statistics role in the preparation of well-informed the 1995 budget cuts were gradually being does something similar for employment, citizens in a democracy. Low voter-partici- reversed, Ferris declined to include in his and the Education Department does it for pation rates and unfamiliarity with press- annual Congressional budget proposals school enrollment. Even libertarians who ing current issues are the results of failings any support for a data collection and anal- are skeptical about any expansive federal in schools and colleges to promote foreign ysis office, saying he had other priorities. role concede that collecting basic data is language learning, familiarity with major Now, nearly a decade later, thanks to an appropriate government role. As a mat- texts of the American political tradition, the efforts of the AAAS and Mellon's sup- ter of sound public policy, this responsibil- and knowledge of American and world port, the project may be revived. But as ity should not be permanently in private history. Quantitative measures of the state Norman Bradburn, former director of the hands, despite Mellon's recent largesse. of the humanities are especially useful for National Opinion Research Center and college and university leaders who may be now head of the AAAS project, has noted, A LOOK BACK tempted in curricular and budget plan- Mellon can't support the project forever; There is a history to the AAAS project in ning to give these fields short shrift. The NEH is still the obvious candidate to take which I played a small part that may offer humanities may not always be popular on this public responsibility. Its current lessons for the future. In its early years, among students, but they are the heart of chairman, Bruce Cole, should agree to do the National Endowment for the Hu- a liberal arts education. so. This time, the legislative language ac- manities NEH maintained an office that The federal government should take companying NEH's appropriations should collected humanities data and supported responsibility for tracking the Humani- make clear the Congressional requirement studies using the data. Sheldon Hackney, ties Indicators, just as for many years the that NEH has an ongoing responsibility then NEH's chairman, eliminated most National Science Foundation has been re- to provide this fundamental service. of these activities as part of 1995 budget quired by Congress to report on the state of reductions. The Andrew W. Mellon Foun- the sciences. Despite political shifts in the dation approached him about the need White House and Congress and despite Richard Ekman is the president of the Council for NEH to resume collection of statistics ups and downs in federal appropriations, of Independent Colleges. He can be reached at on the humanities, and Hackney agreed. NSF has produced Science Indicators 24 | July 2006 Vwpt706.indd 24 6/21/06 2:16:19 PM

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of University Business - July 2006

College Index
Advisory Board
Company Index
Editor's Note
People Watch
Sense of Place
Stats Watcch
Human Resources
Future Shock
Money Matters
Community Colleges
Diamond in the Mudd
Higher Ed at the Crossroads
Property Values
The President Next Door
Good Medicine
The Outs (and Ins) of Facility Management
Business Technology
What's New
Calendar of Events
Direct Connect
End Note

University Business - July 2006