Humanities Increasingly under Fire ; Budget Cuts Are Hitting Programs That Are Easy Targets for Politicians

By Delany, Ella | International New York Times, December 2, 2013 | Go to article overview

Humanities Increasingly under Fire ; Budget Cuts Are Hitting Programs That Are Easy Targets for Politicians


Delany, Ella, International New York Times


Financing for college humanities programs has fallen steady in the United States since 2009, echoing a trend across the globe.

In the global marketplace of higher education, the humanities are increasingly threatened by decreased funding and political attacks.

Financing for humanities research in the United States has fallen steadily since 2009, and in 2011 was less than half of 1 percent of the amount dedicated to science and engineering research and development. This trend is echoed globally: According to a report in Research Trends magazine, by Gali Halevi and Judit Bar-Ilan, international arts and humanities funding has been in constant decline since 2009.

Rosemary G. Feal, executive director of the Modern Language Association of America, says the decline in funding for humanities research in the United States is related both to fiscal emergencies and "the devaluing of the humanities, especially by legislators who themselves have not experienced firsthand the value of studying the humanities."

Last year, a task force convened by Gov. Rick Scott of Florida recommended that students majoring in liberal arts and social science subjects should pay higher tuition fees, arguing they were "nonstrategic disciplines." Reacting against that, an online petition, which more than 2,000 people signed, warned that the differential tuition model would lead "to a decimation of the liberal arts in Florida."

In March this year, an amendment submitted by Senator Tom Coburn, a Republican from Oklahoma, passed the Senate, limiting the use of National Science Foundation funds for political science research, unless that research promotes "national security or the economic interests of the United States."

This kind of political interference is echoed elsewhere. This year in Australia, Tony Abbott, the newly elected prime minister, promised to "reprioritize" 103 million Australian dollars, or $93.6 million, from research in the humanities into medical research. In a statement, Mr. Abbott's coalition government singled out four examples of "increasingly ridiculous" research grants including "The God of Hegel's Post-Kantian Idealism," and an "Investigation of Sexuality in Islamic Interpretations of Reproductive Health Technologies in Egypt."

Associate Prof. Robert Phiddian, director of the Australasian Consortium of Humanities Research Centers, said that even before Mr. Abbott took office, humanities funding in Australia was in decline. "Humanities departments have seen less and less funding per student for as long as I can remember," he said in an email.

In Britain, at an undergraduate level, government funding for humanities teaching has been pulled. "From 2011, direct government funding for humanities provision has been withdrawn entirely, and replaced by tuition fees, backed up by government loans," said Robin Jackson, chief executive of the British Academy for the Humanities and Social Sciences. "The move has been highly controversial: some have seen it as an expression of lack of respect for the value of these subjects."

"Postgraduate study is now seen as a sensitive area, where enrollments might be depressed by students with debt from undergraduate study," Dr. Jackson said. "There is almost no government funding for masters-level programs in the humanities, although leading universities are shifting towards providing Ph.D. bursaries."

According to Prof. Homi K. Bhabha, director of the Mahindra Humanities Center at Harvard University, "the humanities are facing serious challenges in both developed and developing countries. …

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