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Excellence and Equity

Excellence and Equity: The National Endowment for the Humanities

Copyright Date: 1984
Pages: 208
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  • Book Info
    Excellence and Equity
    Book Description:

    Since its establishment in 1965 the National Endowment for the Humanities has distributed many millions of dollars in grants. Has the money been well spent? What impact have the Endowment's programs had on the academic community, the schools, and the public at large?

    In this first book-length study of the Endowment, Stephen Miller offers a trenchant analysis of the agency's origins, its accomplishments, and the criticisms leveled against it. In the political maneuvering that led to its establishment, Miller sees a basic misunderstanding between those in academia who lobbied for NEH and those in Congress who were its most enthusiastic supporters. The inevitable result was a confused mandate that has made the work of the Endowment and the policies of its four chairmen the focus of congressional and public criticism.

    One group of critics has found NEH too elitist -- awarding too many grants to scholars at a few major universities. Others have regarded it as too populist -- expending too much on organizations that have little to do with the humanities. Still others regard its programs as simply a waste of the taxpayers' money.

    Excellence and Equityexplores the continuing political controversy surrounding NEH and its chairmen and assesses in detail its impact on the humanities in four major program areas: research, teaching, preservation, and public programs. The book concludes with recommendations for restructuring the Endowment, for revising its review procedures, and for improving the process by which its chairman is selected. Only through such changes, Miller argues, can we hope to foster humanistic scholarship in the coming decades.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-6385-7
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. 1-6)

    IN MAY 1981 President Reagan announced the formation of a blue-ribbon task force whose main purpose would be to find ways to increase private support for the arts and the humanities. The Reagan administration maintained that increased private contributions would compensate for the dramatic reduction—approximately 50 percent—in the budgets of the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) that it had recommended to Congress in February 1981.

    There was little support for the cuts in Congress, and the two agencies received appropriations only slightly lower than those of the previous year....

  5. 1 The Founding of NEH
    (pp. 7-27)

    AT CONGRESSIONAL hearings held during the winter of 1965, Senator Ernest Gruening of Alaska, a man whom his colleague Claiborne Pell called “the spearhead of this humanities bill,” reminded Congress that “there is nothing as inevitable as an idea whose time has arrived.”¹ He was quoting Victor Hugo to describe the remarkable showing of congressional support for legislation to provide federal aid for the arts and the humanities—legislation that moved through the 89th Congress with relative ease. On March 10, 1965, the Johnson administration’s bill to create a National Foundation for the Arts and the Humanities was simultaneously introduced...

  6. 2 A Short History of the Endowment
    (pp. 28-37)

    LIKE THE National Science Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities is primarily a grant-making agency. It devises categories of support and invites individuals or institutions (depending upon the nature of the category) to apply for grants in particular categories. The applications undergo peer review, a process in which grant applications are evaluated by specialists in their respective fields rather than by employees of the agency, although the agency itself makes the final decisions on the awarding of grant monies. NEA and NEH are both, in a sense, indirect patrons of the arts...

  7. 3 The Politics of NEH
    (pp. 38-59)

    IN 1981 approximately half of NEH’s budget (excluding its operating costs and challenge grants) was expended on public programs in the humanities; the proportion had been even higher in the late 1970s. In this respect NEH stands in striking contrast to its early model, the National Science Foundation, which in recent years has spent less than 1 percent of its budget on similar programs in the sciences. Why has NEH devoted so much of its budget to benefit the American public? And why, toward the end of the 1970s, did it begin to cut back on its support of public...

  8. 4 The Peer Review Process
    (pp. 60-72)

    DESPITE major differences between the National Endowment for the Humanities and the other two federal grant-making agencies with which it has often been compared, the three agencies are similar in one important respect: NEH, NEA, and NSF all rely upon the peer review procedure when making decisions about awards. For NEH, this procedure is intrinsic to a process by which, in 1981, 2,632 grants were awarded to 7,882 applicants. The procedure involves the participation of thousands of private citizens (in 1981 they numbered 5,376) who review individual proposals, which they receive by mail, or serve as members of review panels...

  9. 5 Research in the Humanities
    (pp. 73-86)

    IN 1979 Wayne Booth, a professor of English at the University of Chicago, told the National Council that while NEH’s grant program was impressive in scope, it left him with “an alarmed sense of threatening miscellaneousness, a feeling that any agency that attempts to do all of these things is doomed to do none of them very well.” NEH, he said, must begin by “pruning its portfolio if it is to do its job.”¹ Was Booth right? In order to evaluate his criticisms, we must look more closely at what NEH has done in support of research (and, in later...

  10. 6 The Problem of Preservation
    (pp. 87-100)

    DESPITE the proliferation of program areas within the National Endowment for the Humanities, the agency has for the most part taken a passive role in its support of humanistic research, responding to applications rather than attempting to influence research by contracting for certain kinds of projects or instituting more and more restrictive categories of support. When NEH came into existence, however, both the chairman and the National Council realized that for the agency to promote progress and scholarship in the humanities it would have to take an active role in several areas. The most significant of these is undoubtedly the...

  11. 7 The Teaching of the Humanities
    (pp. 101-124)

    WHEN THEY voted for the establishment of the National Endowment for the Humanities, many congressmen were worried about the lack of a balanced education in America. They agreed with the1964 Reportthat, although much has been done to improve the teaching of the sciences, “similar steps have not been taken in the humane studies, so that a student may . . . enter a college or university without adequate training in the humanities or, for that matter, a rudimentary acquaintance with them.”¹ The authors of the report recommended a number of programs that would, they hoped, address the problem...

  12. 8 Public Programs in the Humanities
    (pp. 125-154)

    ON DECEMBER 8, 1982, the National Endowment for the Humanities achieved a first in its comparatively short history: a meeting with the president in the Oval Office of the White House to announce a number of grants. Although the meeting was very much a public event, the grants were not for public programs such as television series or museum exhibits. Rather, they were challenge grants to thirteen independent research libraries that together would collect more than $5 million if they could raise $15 million in private contributions. The New York Public Library alone was awarded $2 million, the largest challenge...

  13. 9 Conclusions and Recommendations
    (pp. 155-168)

    IN 1965 Frederick Burkhardt, president of the American Council of Learned Societies, was fully confident of the “tremendous impact [a humanities foundation] would have on the intellectual and artistic life of our country. In a few years this . . . foundation would invigorate the humanities . . . at every level of our education system and in our society generally.”¹ Eighteen years and more than a billion dollars later, the National Endowment for the Humanities has had no such impact. It would be easy to leap to the conclusion that the agency has been less than a great success....

  14. NOTES
    (pp. 169-184)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 185-192)