On Wednesday, June 24, the National Humanities Alliance hosted a virtual briefing aimed at educating our members and congressional staffers on how humanities organizations are adapting to serve their communities throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. I was joined in conversation by Vivé Griffith, director of outreach and engagement for The Clemente Course in the Humanities, and Katie Ringsmuth, project director and lead historian of the NN Cannery History Project. For both organizations, the difficulties of the past few months have emphasized what they already knew to be true: that the humanities have a significant role to play in bolstering community life and lending historical perspective. Though cultural organizations throughout the United States are struggling with the pandemic’s economic impact, they have a vital role in supporting us through the months to come.
The House appropriations subcommittees have been releasing their FY 2021 draft bills over the past week and several have now passed out of the full appropriations committee. We have been pleased to see proposed increases for all of our priorities in these bills. The Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies bill included $170 million for the NEH, matching our request for a $7.75 million increase. The bill passed the full committee on a party-line vote of 30-19.
This past spring, when universities were shutting down to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, ICE issued a temporary exemption, which allowed nonimmigrant international students to stay in the U.S. while their classes went virtual. On July 6, ICE issued a decision that would end temporary visa exemptions for immigrant students whose upcoming coursework will be entirely online.
In building and promoting Humanities for All, we've had a unique opportunity to reflect on public engagement. We have learned from all who are involved in publicly engaged humanities work, and shared their voices in profiles of their work and in essays that consider trends in the field. Expanding upon this work, we are delighted to announce the launch of the Humanities for All blog, which invites others to reflect in their own words on their work and promising models and trends in the field.
In early April, we launched a survey that asked humanities organizations to share the challenges they are facing due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Museums, historic sites, and historical societies told us that closing their doors and canceling major events has led to major financial stress, leading them to face lay-offs and the possibility that they won’t survive as organizations.
Each year, a key part of the appropriations process is Dear Colleague Letters. These letters, circulated each March, are written to request a certain amount of appropriations funding for agencies and policy priorities. The letters then receive sign ons from Members of Congress who wish to add their support to specific funding requests.
Our recent Humanities Recruitment Survey (HRS) revealed a consensus among faculty and administrators across institution types that “student concerns about job prospects” is the most influential challenge to attracting undergraduates to the humanities. Over the past year, we’ve been updating the career outcomes data in our Study the Humanities toolkit and collecting effective strategies for articulating career pathways for humanities students. Anticipating that student anxieties will weigh even heavier amidst the economic fallout of the pandemic, we’ve been reaching out to leaders in this field to understand how they are adapting. Kirstin Wilcox, founding director of the University of Illinois’ Humanities Professional Resource Center (HPRC), offered her take.