The Foundation's Programs For Research Universities and Humanistic Scholarship
2001 Annual Report
Harriet Zuckerman Joseph S. Meisel Introduction The Foundation’s programs for research universities and humanistic scholarship have undergone significant change over the last two years, as President Bowen indicated in his report for 2000. Emphasis has shifted from providing substantial resources for graduate training in the humanities and related social sciences to sustaining scholarship at all phases of the professorial career. What remains unchanged is the Foundation's long-term commitment to supporting the best scholarship and fortifying the strongest institutions for humanistic education, training, and research. By way of a beginning, we briefly summarize the Foundation’s principal activities before the transition began. Following this, we turn to the thinking that lies behind the Foundation’s efforts on behalf of research universities and humanistic scholarship. The remainder of this essay is then taken up with describing the major new programs that are being established in accordance with these views, as well as the continuities with programs that have been underway for some time. The Graduate Education Initiative Beginning in 1990, the Foundation launched its Graduate Education Initiative (GEI), a program that would last a decade and be the largest effort in support of graduate training in the humanities undertaken by a private funder. At the time the initiative was conceived, doctoral training in the humanities and kindred social sciences was poorly funded and confronted a number of structural problems. In particular, students took a long time, on average, to earn their PhDs, and too many advanced students departed before finishing their degrees. Informed by the research conducted in the late 1980s by President Bowen and then Executive Vice President Neil Rudenstine, (Note 1) the Foundation went on to invest approximately $80 million between 1990 and 2000 to assist the students in 52 departments at ten leading research universities. (Note 2) These departments were encouraged to review their curricula, examinations, advising, official timetables, and dissertation requirements with an eye to facilitating timely degree completion and to reducing attrition while maintaining or increasing the quality of doctoral training they provided. (Note 3) In the process, systematic data were assembled on students’ progress—or lack of it—thus providing (often for the first time) participating departments and institutions with information
Joseph S. Meisel
The Foundation’s programs for research universities and humanistic scholarship have undergone significant change over the last two years, as President Bowen indicated in his report for 2000. Emphasis has shifted from providing substantial resources for graduate training in the humanities and related social sciences to sustaining scholarship at all phases of the professorial career. What remains unchanged is the Foundation's long-term commitment to supporting the best scholarship and fortifying the strongest institutions for humanistic education, training, and research.
By way of a beginning, we briefly summarize the Foundation’s principal activities before the transition began. Following this, we turn to the thinking that lies behind the Foundation’s efforts on behalf of research universities and humanistic scholarship. The remainder of this essay is then taken up with describing the major new programs that are being established in accordance with these views, as well as the continuities with programs that have been underway for some time.
The Graduate Education Initiative
Beginning in 1990, the Foundation launched its Graduate Education Initiative (GEI), a program that would last a decade and be the largest effort in support of graduate training in the humanities undertaken by a private funder. At the time the initiative was conceived, doctoral training in the humanities and kindred social sciences was poorly funded and confronted a number of structural problems. In particular, students took a long time, on average, to earn their PhDs, and too many advanced students departed before finishing their degrees. Informed by the research conducted in the late 1980s by President Bowen and then Executive Vice President Neil Rudenstine, (Note 1) the Foundation went on to invest approximately $80 million between 1990 and 2000 to assist the students in 52 departments at ten leading research universities. (Note 2) These departments were encouraged to review their curricula, examinations, advising, official timetables, and dissertation requirements with an eye to facilitating timely degree completion and to reducing attrition while maintaining or increasing the quality of doctoral training they provided. (Note 3) In the process, systematic data were assembled on students’ progress—or lack of it—thus providing (often for the first time) participating departments and institutions with informationneeded to track the effectiveness of their efforts.
The active grantmaking phase of GEI included substantial annual appropriations to the ten universities, and then endowment grants of $1 million to each of them along with the provision of a further $1 million challenge to help sustain the gains achieved under the initiative. In the decade after GEI began, many of the most serious problems in graduate education came to be widely acknowledged, and some have begun to be ameliorated-due in part to the attention the initiative focused on them, and in part to the reduction in the size of many graduate programs.
Collection of longitudinal data on the students’ characteristics when they matriculated, the financial support they received, the academic requirements they met, and the degrees they earned was central to GEI. Although the research needed to judge the longterm effectiveness of the initiative is still in train, preliminary analyses have already provided the participating universities with useful information about their doctoral programs. Data will continue to be collected and analyzed until the last GEI cohorts are presumed to have finished their studies. To permit an even more detailed assessment of GEI’s effects, these data have been supplemented by information on changes the departments made and will be further amplified by a survey of the students’ experiences to be fielded in 2002–03. In time, a report on what has been learned will be published—including both the successes and the disappointments this unprecedented effort engendered.
Shaping a New Agenda
The scheduled conclusion of this decade-long investment presented the Foundation with the occasion to consider new means for supporting research universities and humanistic scholarship. Following longstanding Foundation practice, staff consulted with leading scholars from the humanities, senior university administrators, and other key advisors, to learn more about the most pressing problems confronting the various disciplines and the institutions that sustain them, and to determine the most promising opportunities for Foundation assistance. Not surprisingly, those consulted agreed on some matters and disagreed on others, but a set of widely shared concerns emerged from these conversations, including:
These concerns were matched by general agreement that the Foundation should consider providing additional resources for faculty scholarship, postdoctoral fellowships, institutional strengthening, inter-institutional collaborations, and support of the disciplines. That said, it was also agreed that the Foundation should not abandon its support for graduate education, for the development of scholarly resources, or for independent research libraries and centers for advanced study.
Mellon’s new programs for research universities and humanistic scholarship are intended to respond—to the extent that Foundation resources permit—to the most important of these concerns. As a result, the objectives of the new programs are defined first, by their direct beneficiaries—faculty members, graduate students, universities, and so on—and second, by their relevance to several premises that have informed the Foundation’s approach and priorities.
One premise underlying the Foundation’s programs is that the effectiveness of scholars and that of the institutions at which they work are interdependent. Scholars benefit from access to superior colleagues, students, and resources as they fulfill their multiple roles as teachers, faculty members, and creators of new knowledge. Institutions, for their part, are defined by the quality of scholarship and teaching of those associated with them, as well as by the means they are able to provide for facilitating academic accomplishment. A second premise recognizes that disciplinary boundaries shift, and that the blending of disciplinary specialties has real scholarly potential when strongly rooted in particular disciplines. A third premise is that excellent scholarship in the humanities often requires direct confrontation with documents, artifacts, and other sources, and that younger scholars should be encouraged to develop a deeper understanding of how such materials can be used. A fourth premise is that the core scholarly and teaching missions of institutions can be strengthened by better use of existing assets and by sensible collaborations.
Support for Scholarship
The following sections provide more detailed information about new and continuing Foundation programs that are focused on sustaining humanistic scholarship.
Distinguished Achievement Awards
This major new program, launched in 2001, has three principal objectives: to enable notable scholars in the humanities to pursue their work under especially favorable conditions, to enrich teaching and learning in the humanities at their institutions, and to underscore the decisive contributions to the nation’s intellectual life made by humanistic scholarship. The awards are intended for those whose contributions have been recognized within their own disciplines, whose influence may well have extended more broadly to other fields, and whose current work promises to advance the humanities. Recipients are chosen from fields such as classics, history, history of art, musicology, philosophy, religious studies, and all areas of literary studies, including the study of foreign literatures, and must hold tenured appointments at institutions of higher education in the United States. The disciplinary distribution of the awards depends only on the merits of the candidates.
The awards, which are for three-year terms, provide the recipients and their institutions with enlarged opportunities to deepen and extend humanistic research and teaching. Funds are granted to, and overseen by, the institutions with which the recipients are affiliated. Although the awards are structured flexibly so as to meet recipients’ particular scholarly needs, a key feature of the program is that the scholars remain actively engaged in the intellectual lives of their institutions for most of the award period. The funds underwrite salaries, scholarly projects, research assistance and expenses, and support for visiting colleagues. Distinguished Achievement Awards may not be held concurrently with other similar awards.
In November 2001, following an exacting process of nomination and review, the Foundation announced the first five recipients of Distinguished Achievement Awards: Peter Brown (history, Princeton), Stephen Greenblatt (literature, Harvard), Sabine MacCormack (history, University of Michigan), Alexander Nehamas (philosophy, Princeton), and Robert Pippin (philosophy, University of Chicago). The selection panel of eminent scholars was chaired by the Chairman of the Foundation’s Board, Hanna H.Gray, and included Mellon’s two Senior Advisors in the Humanities.
Following Trustee approval, the recipients were asked to submit plans developed in collaboration with their institutions’ academic leadership. The first grants were awarded to their institutions in March 2002. In each of the next two years the Foundation will make additional awards, after which the results of the program will be reviewed.
While the Distinguished Achievement Awards are intended to call attention to the value of the humanities and to have significant positive effects on the recipients’ work, their institutions, and humanistic scholarship more broadly, they are not designed to meet the more immediate and pressing needs of scholars generally. Support for the work of faculty members in the humanities and kindred social sciences is scarce—a condition that has been exacerbated in recent years as the National Endowment for the Humanities and other funding sources have departed the field. While a small number of institutions have created quite generous provisions for faculty leaves, this is hardly the norm. External funding remains crucial, and the need for more of it was almost universally stressed by those with whom we consulted.
The Foundation has long recognized the importance of supporting scholars and humanistic inquiry. It has, for example, provided nearly $12.6 million (including $8.5 million of endowment funds) since 1977 for the fellowship programs of the National Humanities Center. (Note 4) In addition, since 1978, the Foundation has awarded more than $10 million (including $7.75 million of endowment funds) to the main fellowship program of the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS). (Note 5)
While such broad-based support is crucial, the staff ’s consultations also underscored the fact that scholars at different stages of their careers have quite different needs and objectives. Accordingly, the Foundation is launching new programs that, in conjunction with existing initiatives, effectively cover what might be called the "scholarly life-cycle." These are intended to complement one another in deepening the overall mission: the strengthening of institutions and the promotion of the higher learning and scholarship in America.
These new initiatives, open to faculty members at both colleges and universities, build upon, and provide a new context for, a number of existing Foundation programs, most of them begun in the last decade. These include research assistant professorships at the Institute for Advanced Study’s School of Historical Studies, support for humanist fellows at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, and faculty fellowships at independent research libraries (for example, the John Carter Brown Library, the Folger Shakespeare Library, the Huntington Library, and the Newberry Library). (Note 11) Taken together, and especially in combination with the Foundation’s new initiatives, these programs represent a significant commitment of resources to support scholars in the humanities.
Postdoctoral Fellowships in the Humanities
In addition to providing outstanding recent PhDs with opportunities to teach excellent undergraduates and substantial time for scholarship, these programs also benefit the institutions that receive them. Some institutions have used postdoctoral fellows to enrich course offerings without increasing the number of full-time faculty members. Others have used them to replace graduate student instructors with more fully trained teachers. Fellowships have also aided institutional efforts to rationalize and improve graduate programs. In other situations, they have helped relieve the very real pressure to expand such programs to meet increased needs for undergraduate teaching.
Although they have varied according to the different requirements and structures of the participating universities, the Foundation’s postdoctoral programs all share a number of fundamental attributes. Fellows, who are appointed for two years, spend half their time on scholarly work and half their time on teaching. They are given a variety of teaching opportunities (large lecture classes, seminars, and graduate courses). Senior faculty members with relevant interests take responsibility for the fellows’ integration into the relevant institutions and departments. Because there is no widely accepted standard for compensation of postdoctoral fellows in the humanities, the Foundation has set a guideline at 85 percent of institutions’ starting salaries for assistant professors in the relevant field.
In addition to these "regular" postdoctoral programs, the Foundation has recently initiated a new program of Special Collections Fellowships to enable recent PhDs to work intensively in primary source collections related to their scholarly interests and to perform useful bibliographic work for the libraries that hold these materials. They might also collaborate with library and archival staff on projects that would provide broad scholarly access to special collections through electronic media.
These new fellowships have several objectives: to promote greater use, for both scholarship and teaching, of the special library and archival collections housed at universities, while enabling accomplished recent PhDs to carry out innovative work. They will also strengthen the infrastructure of the humanities by increasing knowledge of special collections and access to them, and bridging the divide that sometimes exists between academics and librarians. The Foundation’s guidelines for Special Collections Fellowships are similar to those of the main postdoctoral program. They differ in that the fellows’ teaching is tied to the special collections, their teaching loads are reduced, and they are expected to work with appropriate library and archival staff and to develop courses based on the collections. The first Special Collections postdoctoral program was funded at the University of Michigan.
Consistent with our premise that scholars and institutions are mutually dependent, the strengthening of the humanities demands that support be extended to institutions as well as to individuals. Such support can take a variety of forms, but we have decided for the time being to concentrate on two types of institutional assistance. The first is designed to help leading research universities make existing institutional resources—for example, humanities centers and other types of facilities—more effective contributors to their central scholarly and teaching missions. The second seeks to promote the sharing of resources among institutions, where such collaborations make good sense and involve complementary strengths.
University Humanities Centers and Other "Specialized Assets"
Following discussions with center directors, academic leaders, and others, the Foundation invited proposals explicitly aimed at strengthening the connections between the centers and the core academic activities of their universities. The kinds of activities for which the centers sought funding varied according to their particular needs, but included: (1) incorporating graduate students into center activities; (2) using center resources to strengthen the undergraduate curriculum in the humanities; (3) increasing the opportunities for intellectual exchange among faculty members in the humanities and other fields; and (4) creating opportunities for librarians to spend a period of residence at the centers. A small number of grants to other centers will likely be made in the next two years.
A second type of collaboration links research universities and other institutions (e.g., liberal arts colleges, historically black colleges and universities, and independent research libraries) to foster graduate training and to enlarge curricular offerings. For example, a collaboration between Emory and Dillard Universities provides opportunities for graduate students in the humanities at Emory to teach at Dillard, and aims also to encourage Dillard’s undergraduates to pursue graduate work in the humanities at Emory. Another collaboration the Foundation has supported—between the California Institute of Technology and the Henry E. Huntington Library and Art Gallery—includes dissertation seminars and postdoctoral fellowships that offer students, faculty members, and library staff opportunities that neither institution could provide on its own.
The third type of collaboration underwrites exchanges of scholars between research universities and liberal arts colleges. For many years, the Foundation supported the Midwest Faculty Seminar—a joint enterprise of the University of Chicago and some 29 liberal arts colleges—which brings college faculty members in the region to the University for intensive seminars on subjects in the humanities and social sciences. Recently, the Foundation has also funded a program in which recent PhDs from the University of Michigan teach at Kalamazoo and Oberlin Colleges, while college faculty members take leaves at the University.
The John E. Sawyer Seminars on the Comparative Study of Cultures support both institutions and individual scholars and thus qualify as a kind of omnibus program. To a greater or lesser extent, they embody the four premises articulated at the beginning of this essay. The seminars engage faculty members, postdoctoral fellows, and graduate students in systematic, comparative study of the historical and cultural sources of significant contemporary developments. They usually involve participants from a number of disciplines, while stimulating fruitful connections among the different parts of a given institution and often between one institution and others nearby. With 73 seminars funded to date at 29 institutions, this program has proved to be particularly robust, thanks to the extremely high quality of the proposals received from the institutions invited to participate (including those that have not been funded) and a superb selection panel that has distinguished itself by its unflinching rigor.
Established in 1994, and named in honor of the Foundation’s long-serving third president, the seminars have brought together scholars from a variety of fields mainly, but not exclusively, in the humanities and social sciences, for intensive study of subjects chosen by the conveners. This program provides opportunities for inquiry that would (in ordinary academic circumstances) be difficult to pursue, while at the same time avoiding the institutionalization of such work in new centers, departments, or programs. The current maximum award for each Sawyer Seminar is $110,000, which includes support for a postdoctoral fellow and for dissertation research fellows.
To judge both by the results to date and by the considerable interest that continues to be expressed by scholars and university leaders, the vitality of the program shows no sign of diminishing. (Note 21) Even so, it is a highly labor-intensive undertaking for the Foundation’s small program staff. To focus the needed attention on new initiatives, we have decided to put the Sawyer Seminars on hiatus.
Future Directions: Discipline Development
Over the next few years, while the current set of new programs is being launched, staff will be exploring ways in which Foundation funds could help strengthen the core disciplines of the humanities and sub-disciplines of particular interest. This is hardly a new category of activity for the Foundation. For example, medieval studies is a field of great significance in humanistic scholarship that the Foundation has supported with postdoctoral fellowships at the University of Notre Dame and the Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies in Toronto, and an endowment challenge for a chair in manuscript studies at the Pontifical Institute. In another example, the Trustees have approved substantial awards over the past decade to improve graduate training in the history, sociology, literature, art, and archaeology of Latin America, and thus to building needed capacity in that area of scholarship. Similarly, the Foundation supported Atlantic History Seminars at Harvard University have helped to establish an important sub-discipline by bringing together young scholars from the United States and abroad, all of whom work on the common, comparative, and interactive aspects of the history of the peoples of the Atlantic world while exposing participants to approaches, source materials, and intellectual traditions different from their own.
The Foundation’s senior advisors and staff think that discipline development merits greater emphasis. Past efforts have produced a repertoire of useful mechanisms for disciplinary support. While we are also eager to consider new approaches, we expect to continue the existing pattern of assisting initiatives at institutions with established strengths in areas of interest where Foundation funds can be used effectively. In general, we do not anticipate working with disciplinary societies, which are more appropriately supported by their members.
Finally, in light of recent events, it seems appropriate to say a few words about the Foundation’s past efforts to support Middle Eastern studies and future prospects for its further involvement in this area. In the late 1980s, staff surveyed the state of Middle Eastern studies to determine whether promising opportunities existed for investing in this field and if so, which were most likely to be effective. This study earmarked as a top priority language training in Arabic, Persian, and Turkish, especially by professional language instructors. It also noted that scholars needed to work abroad in appropriate institutional settings, and emphasized the importance of strengthening contacts between scholars in the United States and those in the region. Accordingly, the Foundation made a series of grants to a small number of United States universities that already had capacity in this area, as well as to the American Universities in Beirut and Cairo. While this initiative awaits formal assessment, it is clear that it was an uphill struggle. Although language training has greatly improved and professional language instructors are being increasingly used, the number of students studying Middle Eastern languages and cultures is still small and a number of the institutions that received support have had great difficulty in raising funds to meet the challenge portion of the Foundation’s concluding endowment grants.
Foundation staff continue to think that Middle Eastern studies merits support and have recently provided funds through the Liberal Arts Colleges program for an online course in the history, cultures, and languages of the Arab world. Beyond this, the extent and character of further assistance for scholarship on the Middle East and for graduate training in the area remain uncertain. We anticipate that any revival of grantmaking by the Foundation in these areas will be highly selective, focused, and designed so as not to create funding "cliffs" when programs come to an end.