NEH’s Philosopher-Leader Steps Down / UPDATE: Trump Budget Released Today Proposes Closure of NEH


William “Bro” Adams, a philosopher who has taught at Santa Clara University, UNC Chapel Hill, and Stanford, and who has served as chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) since 2014, is stepping down from that position, effective today, according to Inside Higher Ed. [See the update below: the budget released by the White House today proposes allocating $42 million to the NEH for its “orderly closure.”]

Adams’ term was not set to expire until 2018. IHE reports:

The NEH was among several agencies reportedly being considered for elimination proposals in budget blueprints drafted by the Trump transition team. Later, that proposal made its way into the “skinny budget” released by the White House in March, along with a proposal to eliminate the National Endowment for the Humanities’ entire $148 million budget. Adams said in a statement at the time that he was “greatly saddened” to learn about the call for elimination.

That early budget document, as well as the full budget expected to be released today, was premised on the argument that massive cuts to nondefense discretionary spending were necessary to pay for huge increases in military funding. But conservatives have long made philosophical arguments against public support of the arts and humanities. And in January, the Republican Study Committee released a document arguing that support for those areas “can easily and more properly be found from nongovernmental sources.”

Whether it is true that support for philosophy “can easily and more properly be found from nongovernmental sources” is unclear. At the recent Pacific Division meeting of the American Philosophical Association, I gave some remarks about aspects of the funding situation for philosophy in the United States. I’ll share the gist of those remarks another time, but they included a quick attempt to determine how much funding the NEH provided to philosophers over the past five years, which I estimated to be roughly $7 million (this is a rough estimate; the NEH provides that data in a rather inconvenient format). Finding substitutes for—and increasing—that relatively neutral funding should be among the profession’s priorities.

UPDATE: The Trump administration has proposed a budget that provides the NEH with just enough funds for its “orderly closure.” The budget still has to be approved by Congress.

National Endowment for the Humanities Deputy Chair Margaret Plympton released the following statement today regarding the agency’s budget:

Today the Trump administration released its comprehensive budget for the Federal government for FY 2018. The White House has requested that Congress appropriate approximately $42 million to NEH for the orderly closure of the agency. This amount includes funds to meet matching grant offers in effect as of October 1, 2017, as well as funds to cover administrative expenses and salaries associated with the closure.

As NEH awaits Congressional action on the President’s proposed budget, the agency is continuing normal operations and will be making the next round of FY 2017 awards following the meeting of the National Council in July.

Since its creation in 1965, NEH has established a significant record of achievement through its grantmaking programs. Over these five decades, NEH has awarded more than $5.3 billion for humanities projects through more than 63,000 grants. That public investment has led to the creation of books, films, and museum exhibits, and to ensuring the preservation of significant cultural resources around the country. 

NEH grants have reached every part of the country and provided humanities programs and experiences to benefit all of our citizens. Hundreds of veterans leaving the military service and beginning to pursue an education have benefited from the Warrior-Scholar program, a boot camp for success in the college classroom. Students, teachers, and historians have access to the papers of President George Washington. NEH On the Road circulates traveling versions of major exhibitions to rural towns and small cities all over the map from Greenville, South Carolina, to Red Cloud, Nebraska, and beyond. Through these projects and thousands of others, the National Endowment for the Humanities has inspired and preserved what is best in American culture.

The statement can be found here.

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