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Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Twilight of the UC Humanities Network?

By Catherine Liu, Director, UC Irvine Humanities Collective

In 2008, under the reign of Mark Yudof and in the aftermath of the financial meltdown, the University of California Office of the President overturned the 20 year old “Gardner Initiative” that had supported research and scholarship in the Humanities.  In 1988, David Gardner (15th President of the University of California ,1983-1992) had recognized the centrality of Humanities scholarship to the University and helped establish the Gardner Initiative – a funding scheme that led to the establishment of the University of California Humanities Research Institute and the campus Humanities Centers. UC Irvine won the bid to house the UCHRI. Campus centers received annual disbursements from the Central Administration, amounting to approximately 50K – 100K including graduate student fellowships.  But then, President Yudof decided, the funds for the Gardner initiative would no longer be “automatically” available. We were all to become more “accountable” – there were no longer to be any “entitlements. “ We all had to work together, to find synergies, to emerge bleary eyed from our silos and – collaborate.

The Humanities Deans rallied and worked with UCHRI to apply for funding renewal in 2009.   With these funds, they organized a Consortium and UC Humanities Network. David Marshall, Dean of the Humanities and Fine Arts at UCSB, spearheaded the effort with David Theo Goldberg, Director of UCHRI.  As a result of their efforts, the UC Humanities Network was created in 2009 as a multicampus research group, funded through UCOP's Office of Research--for five years. 

All in all, the Network, which includes UCHRI and the Consortium (the UC Humanities Centers and Institutes spanning the 10 campuses) received $11 million in total funding for this five year period. The Gardner Initiative was, in effect, “replaced” by the Network.   And it is noteworthy that the Consortium and the Network are mysterious entities: there is a web “portal” that alleges their activities, but little real sense of collaboration.

2014 marks the expiration of the funds that have sustained the Centers and the Consortium. In addition, the President’s Faculty Fellowships and graduate student fellowships will also be suspended for 2014-2015.  The recipients were named  a “Society of Fellows,” but as far as I know, other Societies (at Cornell or Princeton) do not struggle for funding from year to year. 

As of today, there is no call for 2014 because of budget cuts to UCOP: in the best case scenario, some Centers might receive local campus “bridge funding” for one year, and a new competition might be announced. Although there has been an “official” announcement of the funding hiatus, each campus has received the news in various ways. 

Is the collapse of funding for the Humanities at the UC the result of thoughtless administration? Is it a conspiracy against the Humanities?  The news as it has emerged has been fragmented at best.  Many faculty are not even aware of the consequences of the postponement of the call. The idea of protest or letter writing was squelched in favor of closed-door negotiations. The results are still negative.

Is Janet Napolitano, new President of the UC, aware of the artificially produced crisis in Humanities funding?
It seems that it has made absolutely no difference whether or not we kept our criticisms of the ways the funds were administered to ourselves, whether we collaborated or not, whether we acted as a “Network” or a new arm of bureaucracy. If we cannot describe our own reality in accurate language, how can we teach our students about textual analysis? Accountability, assessment, evaluation, competition, collaboration, these were the anodyne watchwords that we were supposed to respect without question. 

Even were the Humanities at the UC fully re-funded, a threat will hang over the organization Network/Consortium as it is reconfigured. Some administrators have hinted that we should be “inventing something new.” Indeed the present structures of governance over the Network/Consortium/ UCHRI do not seem to have enhanced ten-campus communication or collaboration. Our EVC of Research John Hemminger at UC Irvine has assured me that the Humanities MRG has the greatest reach into the ten campuses. He is aware of the damage that such a hiatus in the MRPI will have on Faculty, Graduate Students and Research. 

It is almost certain that decisions were made about cuts to research funding that did not specifically target the Humanities. But with limited outside funding, Humanities infrastructure depends for its very existence upon UCOP funds in a way that others do not. 

As the uninformed and ideologically slanted “demise of the Humanities” meme continues to be trumpeted in the news media, and as the ardent defenders of the Humanities read the tea leaves of student enrollments, what is absolutely clear is that at upper levels of higher education administration, the Humanities are not really worth the trouble either to finance or manage well. 

The Gardner Initiative supported the idea that high quality Humanities research must be supported by a large, ambitious public University. In contrast, before he left office, Yudof gave $100,000 to be distributed as part of a Public Humanities Initiative to the ten campuses. The $11 million gap is hardly filled by this one-time Public Humanities grant, but it is always mentioned as a sign of our success in getting the harried and ailing former President’s fleeting attention.

No one seems to care enough about the long-term existence of Humanities research support.  We need to build trust and confidence, but our leaders have no idea to what degree that trust has been undermined. Perhaps they hope that the ethos of professionalism will keep us quiet. 

In this short story, there is the problem of budget cuts and then there is the problem of mismanagement and poor communication.   It is time for both UCHRI and the Humanities Research Consortium to step forward and improve both.


Ann Bermingham said...

Dear Catherine,

Thank you so much for your post about the plight of the UC Humanities Network. For those who do not know, as of June 30 the lights will go out on the Network unless the campuses come up with money to tied over the Centers and the fellowship programs until they can recompete for new MRPI money in 2014.

Let me give some background. The train wreck started in 2005 when the system wide Academic Senate decided that all multi-campus research units must recompete for OP funding. The decision was motivated by a few outrageous abuses of the system by the sciences at large campus like UCLA.

Unfortunately the Gardener Initiative was lumped into this group of MRG’s, and in 2008 the campus Centers and UCHRI were asked to recompete. The recompetition was then in the hands of Steve Beckwith, Vice President for Research and Graduate Studies at OP under President Mark Yudof. Despite the best efforts of administrators in the humanities, Beckwith could not be persuaded that the Gardner Initiative was not an MRG. Because it funded faculty and graduate student research on a variety of different subjects, and because it contributed money to the individual campus centers and UCHRI, the Gardner Initiative did not fit the profile of a single issue research initiative. The Gardner Initiative served ALL faculty and graduate students in the humanities, it was a fellowship funding mechanism and not a RA funding mechanism. All these distinctions were lost on Beckwith. Perhaps too subtle for him, or perhaps he was reluctant to interfere with an initiative coming from the system wide Senate.

Thanks to the efforts of Dean David Marshall (UCSB) the Centers and fellowships were saved and reconceived and rebranded as the UC Humanities Network. Under the umbrella of UCHRI, which would be responsible for much of the digital infrastructure, the Network would be governed by the ten campus deans and the head of UCHRI, David Theo Goldberg. The Network would now function like and MRPI and recompete every five years for continued funding. The problem now is that there is delay in the recompetition which will result in a 9 to 12 month gap in funding, presumably because the Office of Research at OP is low on funds. How this came to be is something of a mystery but perhaps the sequester and it impact on STEM funding is to blame.

Two big mistakes were made. The first was the failure of the Senate and Beckwith to distinguish the Gardner Initiative from the MRP’s. The second was the failure the Center Directors (and I include myself as an acting director UCSB at that time) in 2008 to protest loudly when we were being asked to recompete. That was the moment when we should have rallied the troops and insisted that the Gardener Initiative be removed from the recompetition.

But finally there is also the sad fact that the Gardner Initiative was always dependent on a friend at OP; on a President who valued the humanities as Gardner did and on an Office of Research that understood the research needs of the humanities and their enormous contributions to the system. While I am not optimistic, my hope is that President Napolitano will be the champion that we need.

Prof. Ann Bermingham
Former Acting Director
Interdisciplinary Humanities Center

Catherine Liu said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Catherine Liu said...

Thank you Ann for adding critical details to this unhappy history. The worst part of all of this is that each campus is losing a minimum of two doctoral fellowships next year as a result of the hiatus in funding. I am just gobsmacked and I totally accept your assessment of the blame that needs to go around. We were all in disarray after the first "hiatus" of 2008-2009 and when the funding was restored, we were told to play nicely with one another! We miss you!

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