2008 Annual Report: President's Report



Readers of the Foundation's Annual Report for 2007 will note that as of December 31, 2007, the Foundation's net assets stood at $6.0 billion.  Readers of the present Annual Report for 2008 will note that as of December 31, 2008, the Foundation's net assets stood at $4.1 billion.  In the course of 2008, the Foundation incurred $342 million in expenses, primarily grants.  The result is that, net of grants, contributions, and other expenses, the Foundation's net assets declined by $1.9 billion or approximately 32 percent.  These are the stark facts.  Unfortunately, they will sound familiar to those who follow the affairs of foundations, colleges, and universities with large endowments.

The Foundation is required to grant annually 5 percent of the average of its monthly balance of assets.  Since the decline in the markets was precipitous and confined largely to the last quarter of the year, the average monthly balance was substantially higher than the ending balance for the year.  Furthermore, most commitments for the year were already in place by the beginning of the fourth quarter.  Since the Foundation was unwilling to withdraw from any of those commitments, the total grants and allowable expenses actually rose well above the 5 percent requirement.

The budget for 2009 was first planned in the last quarter of 2008, and markets have continued to fall into the first quarter of 2009.  The result is that we have felt it necessary to reduce our grantmaking budget for 2009 by approximately 10 percent, but this will allow the spending rate to remain well above the required 5 percent, depending on how markets perform for the remainder of the year.  The grantmaking budget for 2009 is now set approximately equal to that for 2006, which means that despite the recent declines, the Foundation has not been forced back to some much earlier era and that instead, the years immediately preceding the recent decline should be seen as aberrationally good.

A less well understood requirement for foundations stipulates that a target spending rate for any given year be an average of the actual spending rates of the preceding five years.  A failure to reach that target rate subjects a foundation to an additional 1 percent excise tax on its investment gains.  This has a slightly perverse effect, for it in the end encourages a foundation always to stay close to the 5 percent amount rather than let it rise in declining markets when, as at present, the needs of grantees are greatest.  A much better scheme would be one that allowed foundations to fall below the 5 percent when investment returns are exceptionally high, as in recent years, so as to let the spending rate substantially exceed the 5 percent in periods of market declines like the present.  Such a smoothing mechanism would certainly be best for grantees.  But in periods of strong investment returns, the outcry from some quarters is only about how foundations should be obliged to spend more.  The result of such a policy can only be that in periods of weak or indeed negative returns, they will spend less, to the detriment of those they wish to help.

One should not forget the immortal remark of John Maynard Keynes that in the long term we are all dead.  But the kinds of institutions that the Mellon Foundation supports—colleges, universities, and cultural institutions—all exist to serve society in the long term and will thus need the support of this foundation and other donors over long periods of time.  It is thus in society's interest to make this support as stable as possible.  As we all know, very different stories can be told on the basis of figures for the economy and the markets covering periods of different lengths.  And then there is the question of whether the future can in any sense be counted on to conform to the past.  David Hume and Keynes, among others, had a good deal to say about this that might make a person cautious.

Nevertheless, it is at least interesting to consider the history of the Mellon Foundation's assets from its founding in 1969 until the end of 2008.  The accompanying graph shows assets at year end for the period, net of all grants and expenses.  The ups and downs of recent decades are all more or less where one would expect them.  On a separate line, the graph also takes the initial corpus and inflates it at the rate of 5 percent per annum.  Throughout this period, inflation averaged 4.5 percent.  This line, then, shows what the Foundation's assets would need to be in order to remain essentially constant in real terms.  Several conclusions could be drawn.

The enormous losses of recent months have only now begun to wipe away the enormous gains of the last few years to the point of returning the Foundation's assets, in real terms, to what they were at the outset.  Clearly, in the recent period of striking gains, the Foundation was able to make grants at levels that were historically very high in terms of dollars.  And one might conclude that in such periods one could, or perhaps should, raise the level of grantmaking to still higher levels so as to keep asset levels closer to their original value in real terms rather than appear to be accumulating great wealth.  But that then poses the question of how one ought to prepare for the inevitable periods of declining investment performance and what one ought to do when such periods arrive.  Everything is in the timing.  But timing has proved notoriously difficult.

Public policy ought to look to the long term, and this suggests that the first priority might better be to begin by enabling the spending of foundations to grow annually at some rate at or above inflation, independent, to the extent possible, of the fluctuations of the financial markets.  This would require allowing foundations to apply spending rates within some band rather than require a fixed rate in good times and bad.  The current 5 percent requirement in fact assumes rather good times, to which many people became habituated in the face of historical evidence to the contrary.  In order for a foundation to maintain the real value of its assets and thus be able to provide constant levels of support, it would need to achieve investment gains equal to the 5 percent plus the rate of inflation.  This would require investment gains of as much as 8 to 10 percent year in and year out.  There are many who believe that in the current circumstances, returns for a number of years may more likely be in the range of 5 or 6 percent.  At that rate, the assets of foundations will decline in real terms and with that their ability to maintain real levels of support to grantees.

One might even wish to enable foundations to increase their levels of support precisely in periods in which investment gains are low and in which the needs of grantees are likely to be greater.  This would require allowing foundations to lower the percentage rate in times of exceptionally high returns so as to have in place the necessary resources with which to maintain grant levels in the inevitable periods of declining returns.  In terms of the graph above, the goal would be to enable the line representing total assets to remain at or above the line representing real value over time.  But how much above should that line be allowed to go?

The problem will again be one of timing and of framing a reasonable estimate of the likely band within which investment returns will fluctuate.  That too will be difficult, and it is probable that no estimate put in place before the last quarter of 2008 would have been likely to be able neatly to accommodate the declines in the financial markets experienced since then.  This is a subject to which I shall return.  Setting aside for the moment such extremes, however, a better approach to the spending requirement might be to base it on rates of investment return rather than on total assets.  Presumably the public has no interest in forcing foundations in the direction of liquidation, as with a requirement to spend a fixed percentage of total assets in periods of investment returns lower than the spending requirement.  Simultaneously, the public might reasonably expect that, granted the ability of foundations to be prepared for downturns, foundations could be expected to increase their giving in relation to increases in their returns when these are especially strong.

All of this raises deeper questions about public policy and the environment in which foundations operate.  To begin with, we must assume that foundations will be regulated in ways that can assure the public that the tax benefit that they enjoy in fact serves the public and that abuses such as self-dealing will be strictly prohibited.  But this should not be confused with attempts to legislate the particular activities and institutions that foundations are allowed to support.  In the recent period of extraordinary investment returns, there were cries in some quarters to require foundations (and university endowments, which have some similar characteristics but operate under somewhat different requirements) to spend more than the 5 percent and to spend more to benefit certain segments of society and regions of the country.  There is now a movement in place to require foundations to spend 50 percent of their giving on the needs of racial and ethnic minorities.  Imagine that such a requirement were to be imposed on the Mellon Foundation.  That 50 percent would need to be taken from somewhere.  Who would suffer in consequence?  Since the Foundation's single largest program is in support of graduate education and research in the humanities, often through fellowships for graduate students and postdoctoral fellowships for recent PhDs, the Foundation would be forced to withdraw at least some of its support for these young scholars, whose sources of support are quite scarce.  What sort of public policy would it be to say that the amelioration of certain social ills ought to be carried out by further impoverishing graduate students and recent PhDs in the humanities?

The Mellon Foundation does, of course, understand very well some of the social ills in question, and it has a long record of supporting educational institutions in poor, rural areas, historically black institutions, and programs aimed at increasing the diversity of the nation's graduate schools and its professoriate.  But no one foundation can attend to every social ill, and it ought to be a feature of our democracy that private philanthropies are free to concentrate their efforts in domains where they have expertise and can hope to make a difference in the absence of robust governmental support.

Here the public policy question comes down to defining the responsibility of government in the first instance and the methods by which the government ought to fulfill those responsibilities.  This in turn comes down to the degree to which and the means by which income is to be redistributed.  No one should be deceived that the government does not now and has not always engaged in income redistribution.  The only questions are how much and for what purposes.

If the public and its elected representatives determine that more money should be devoted to alleviating the ills of certain segments of society or regions of the country, whether those ills are the lack of adequate food, shelter, health care, or education, that money will need to be taken from those people who are believed to have it to give.  Is it reasonable, then, to decline to raise taxes on those thought to have the money to give while imposing requirements for how to give on those generous enough to do so on their own initiative through the creation of foundations?  It might be claimed that this generosity is enabled by the public through tax deductions, thus giving the public and its elected representatives a stake in the goals of that generosity.  In this context, however, it should be remembered that, at present federal rates of taxation, only about 35 cents of the dollar given in order to create a foundation belong in any sense to the public, while the remaining 65 cents really do count as private generosity.  To force the spending of some part of that 65 cents directly or indirectly on something taken to be a particular public purpose obliges the generous to assume a burden in the name of the public while liberating the less generous to spend their 65 cents on whatever they choose, including conspicuous consumption.  This might reasonably be thought to be simply unfair.  It is at a minimum an awkward and inefficient method for meeting the public's responsibilities, whatever they may be thought to be.

To repeat, foundations should be carefully regulated.  A broad framework, like the present one, should be in place to ensure that the public good is served by philanthropy that is encouraged and in part supported by the tax-paying public.  Fraud and abuse should be prosecuted.  But this is different from pressing that regulation to the point of forcing on private philanthropy responsibilities that ought to be borne more broadly.

Any discussion of the ways in which foundations should be regulated necessarily raises still broader questions about how the government goes about redistributing wealth and how it regulates the creation of that wealth in the first place.  The current financial turmoil, with its unfortunate effects on foundations and other charitable organizations and on the people and groups that these organizations serve, could reasonably be thought to derive from insufficient regulation of the means by which wealth is allowed to be accumulated.  This is not the place to take up such a topic.  But it does bear on the character of the nation's intellectual life, and that is something that the Mellon Foundation cares a great deal about and works to enhance.

A good deal of the present difficulty is easily attributable to an insufficient appreciation of the study of history.  We are a nation with a short attention span and limited memory.  And we are now repeating—and in danger of continuing to repeat—certain mistakes of the past, except that, because of the interconnectedness of the world today, the consequences of these mistakes are amplified and propagated faster than anything we have imagined heretofore.  For all that our present circumstances are in many ways unprecedented, history has not been repealed—not the history of our own economy and not the history of our relations to the rest of the world's peoples or the history of their relations with one another.

In the midst of a great deal of talk about the value of investing in physical infrastructure for its own sake and as a means to stimulating the economy, we must bear steadily in mind the continuing need for an investment in the nation's deep intellectual infrastructure.  There are many hard, practical reasons for doing this.  A nation of people with a deeper sense of history's excesses and miseries might be a good deal better at avoiding them in the future.  Such a nation might be more willing to place limits on its short-term gains (not to say greed) for the sake of a more sustainable prosperity for a much greater fraction of the population.

Of course, we are not speaking here about an old-fashioned study of history, the absence of which from school curricula is often lamented.  We are speaking about a study of history that questions received mythologies rather than merely repeating and reinforcing them.  Compelling youth to memorize more of the names and dates that their elders know (or rather, perhaps knew at one time) is not the issue.  What is at issue is developing a quality of mind—a way of going about the world—that is driven by an unquenchable desire to know more, a deep appreciation of the limits of what one knows at any given moment, and a steady insistence on questioning received opinion for the sake of forming a better one.  Not even every historian has this quality of mind.  What we are speaking about, then, requires broad attention to the ways in which people are educated from their earliest days through whatever formal education they will receive and even beyond.  Making more undergraduates take more courses even from the best historians will not be sufficient, however desirable that might be.  We know too many people who had those very courses as undergraduates without seeming to have developed the desired quality of mind.

The field on which this challenge must be engaged stretches from early childhood through to graduate school and beyond.  And it is not only about studying history in appropriate ways.  It is about studying— experiencing—all of the arts and humanities.  It is also about studying science.  When we lament the state of the humanities in society, even when we are not simply whining about it, we lament, underneath it all, the very same thing that thoughtful scientists lament about the state of their disciplines and the degree to which they are and are not appreciated by the general public.  This lament concerns the scarcity of that quality of mind that drives individuals to want to become scientists or humanists or artists or at least to be in some way engaged with those pursuits no matter how they earn their living.

In times of economic stress like the present, of course, the public is likely to focus on practical matters, and the humanities and the arts will thus be asked to justify themselves in practical terms.  There are powerful justifications of this type.  The arts are especially easy to justify in these terms, and there are many serious studies that demonstrate the contribution to local economies of strong arts institutions.  The City of New York is perhaps the most powerful case in point, but the same story could be told in other cities as well.  Cultural institutions not only create their own jobs, they contribute to the creation of all of the jobs that result from the flow of visitors to those institutions.  Their contribution to the gross domestic product is thus clear, and when foreign visitors are taken into account, they contribute to an improvement in the balance of trade and the strength of the dollar.  Who could ask for more than that, even—or especially—in times of economic stress?

The case for the humanities in these terms has been somewhat harder to make, and this has sometimes been lamented by humanists.  There are, nevertheless, powerful practical reasons for supporting many of the things that humanists do.  A deep knowledge of other times and places and peoples is crucial to the nation's fortunes, even if less easily quantifiable and if observable only over longer spans of time than the public can be patient with.  No one who has had a sustained engagement with the humanities can imagine life without it, nor could such a person deny the powerful effect of that engagement on the ways in which they have gone about daily life and earning a living.  One could even speak of job creation and contributions to the national defense, as indeed we did decades ago in the period when graduate study in the humanities received some support under the National Defense Education Act.

The essential point, however, is that everyone in society deserves to live a life that entails more than physical well being and the consumption of worldly goods.  Sustainable peace and prosperity, and even more important, the profound happiness (as opposed to mere pleasure) that Aristotle describes as deriving from the contemplative life, require the vigorous presence of the humanities and the arts in society.  To bring this about, humanists, artists, scientists, and thoughtful people in every walk of life will need to set aside all temptation to be envious and instead work tirelessly together for the common good.  And we will all need to understand the importance of collaboration across not only our individual disciplines but across all of the ages of our citizens.  In the end, university professors and even great artists have limited power over lives that have not been appropriately stimulated and prepared from an early age.  Not every educational institution or foundation can attend effectively to every segment of this spectrum.  But every one will need to appreciate, and support in whatever degree is appropriate, the efforts of the others.

The Mellon Foundation has concentrated its efforts on one part of the spectrum of human life.  We support higher education in the humanities and the arts and the cultural institutions that bring the humanities and the arts into public life.  We know that without effective K-12 education, and without effective preschool education, and without supportive and effective parenting, we cannot alone enrich broadly the nation's intellectual life and give more people the experience of some of what makes life most worth living.  But this does not diminish the importance of the kinds of activities and institutions that we support.  And given the relative frailty of society's support for these activities and institutions, especially in times of economic difficulties, we believe that we are called upon for more steadfast and disciplined support of these activities and institutions than ever.

Don M. Randel
April 2009

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In the pages that follow, the Foundation's program staff offer summary accounts of their activities in 2008.  The section on Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowships and Diversity Initiatives reflects the exemplary leadership of Lydia L. English, who retires from her position in June of 2009.  She has brought extraordinary ability and dedication to these programs since joining the Foundation in 1999, and her work is deeply admired by the hundreds of students and professionals who have participated in the program.  She will be succeeded in this important work, to which the Foundation maintains a steadfast commitment, by Carlotta M. Arthur, who will also oversee the Foundation's support of Historically Black Colleges and Universities.  The remainder of this report consists of an essay on the Foundation's Scholarly Communications program, a compilation of the Foundation’s grants for 2008, and its annual financial statements.

Research Universities and Humanistic Scholarship

Research Universities and Humanistic Scholarship

Grants in this area, which are overseen by Harriet Zuckerman and Joseph S. Meisel, have three principal objectives: to support scholars' training and research, mainly through fellowship programs for graduate students and faculty members; to assist institutions that sustain scholarship in the humanities, including universities, centers for advanced study, and a number of specialized institutes; and to encourage innovative research that may advance humanistic scholarship in promising directions.  In practice, many individual grants combine at least two, and some all three, of these goals.

In 2008, consistent with the Foundation's increased emphasis on graduate education (described in the previous two Annual Reports), two highly competitive national fellowship programs for dissertation research in the humanities and related social sciences were renewed: the International Dissertation Research Fellowships awarded by the Social Science Research Council (SSRC) and the Fellowships for Dissertation Research in Original Sources awarded by the Council on Library and Information Resources.  SSRC also received funds to continue its new Dissertation Proposal Development Fellowships, combining summer pre-dissertation research funding with intensive workshops, in selected fields, designed to assist fellows in sharpening the questions they intend to address.  Awards to Brown University, Northwestern University, the University of Michigan, and the University of Pennsylvania continued the Foundation’s series of endowment grants for notable centers of doctoral education in the humanities.  Substantial spendable awards were also made to strengthen graduate programs at Brandeis and Rutgers universities.

Programs that support scholars are intended to recognize and encourage leading humanists at various stages of their careers.  Three recent recipients of Distinguished Achievement Awards—the literature scholar Peter Brooks, and the historians William V. Harris and Thomas Laqueur—are now extending their scholarly contributions even more broadly than before at their institutions and in their fields. [1]  An additional crop of more junior New Directions fellows were chosen to pursue rigorous training in the new fields required by their current research. [2]  Emeritus Fellowships continue to demonstrate the productive role that the academy’s most senior members can play in the advancement of scholarship. [3]  Postdoctoral fellowships are ever more important in an era of limited job opportunities.  The fellows advance their research and acquire teaching experience while helping to expand curricular offerings and invigorate universities' intellectual life. With the addition of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, McGill University, and Tulane University in 2008, the Foundation has now sponsored postdoctoral programs at 29 research universities since 1995.

Notwithstanding the "lone-scholar" stereotype often applied to humanists and the frequent calls for them to emulate scientists by undertaking multi-disciplinary and group research, scholars in the humanities regularly work with colleagues both in their own and in other fields in a variety of ways.  Even so, existing institutional arrangements for judging scholarly contributions, allocating teaching credit, and apportioning research funding provide limited incentives for collaboration in the humanities.  In response, the American Council of Learned Societies, with the Foundation's support, now offers joint fellowships and additional resources for two or more scholars to work together intensively on a shared project. [4]

The John E. Sawyer Seminars on the Comparative Study of Cultures provide another example of the Foundation's long history of supporting groups of scholars engaged in innovative work.  Eleven proposals were selected in 2008, all involving collective multi-disciplinary inquiry. [5]  Other highly promising collaborations funded in 2008 include the ambitious project organized by a group of intellectual historians and historians of science at the University of Oxford on "Cultures of Knowledge: An Intellectual Geography of the 17th-Century Republic of Letters."  It will investigate and document the heretofore relatively inaccessible correspondence networks that connected the widely dispersed and sometimes highly mobile figures in this period who were at the forefront of studying the natural world.  Through these efforts, this contemporary network of scholars, librarians, and technology specialists promises to produce a vastly richer understanding of the world of early modern thought, including the "scientific revolution" and extending well beyond it.

In a different way, collaboration and the development of fields of inquiry are at the core of the Monographs Initiative, organized jointly with the Foundation's Scholarly Communications program.  It seeks to facilitate collective efforts by university presses to increase the number of first monographs that are published in humanistic fields for which publishing opportunities are limited (see last year’s Annual Report).  Three projects received funding in 2008.  Fordham University Press and the presses of the universities of California, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Washington will publish more books on literature in modern foreign languages than would otherwise have been possible.  The University of Arizona Press together with the Oregon State University, University of Minnesota, and University of North Carolina presses will increase the number of monographs by new authors that each press publishes in indigenous studies.  And the University of Illinois Press will work with the University of Mississippi and University of Wisconsin presses in folklore studies.  Despite the high promise of these projects, the planned third round of this program has been postponed in order to assess the full impact of the economic downturn on the university press community.  The ability of university presses to fulfill, and to strengthen their critical role as cultivators and disseminators of humanistic scholarship is an ever greater concern.  While it is unclear whether it will make sense under foreseeable circumstances to resume the Monograph Initiative as originally conceived, as described in the accompanying essay on the Scholarly Communications program, the Foundation remains open to inquiries from groups of presses that are interested in and able to pursue collaborative projects in scholarly publication.

Liberal Arts Colleges, Appalachian Colleges, and Historically Black Colleges and Universities

Liberal Arts Colleges, Appalachian Colleges, and Historically Black Colleges and Universities

The Foundation's Liberal Arts Colleges program, led by Philip Lewis, Eugene Tobin, and Carlotta Arthur, provides multi-year grants to liberal arts colleges.  For the most part, the program's grants support academic work in the humanities and humanistic social sciences in a select group of approximately 70 colleges.  The program also embraces ongoing efforts, directed by Ms. Arthur, to strengthen the private Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) affiliated with UNCF (the United Negro College Fund, Inc.) and the group of colleges belonging to the Appalachian Colleges Association (ACA).  In 2008, the program stepped up its efforts to work with groups of colleges that form regionally based consortia, encouraging them to collaborate in a variety of projects and programs that serve their mutual interests and in some cases inviting proposals for endowment grants.

In addition to assisting colleges with their efforts to promote faculty development and to build academic programs, in recent years the Liberal Arts Colleges program has emphasized three important grantmaking categories—postdoctoral fellowships, environmental studies, and curricular mapping—that are expected to remain hallmarks for the next several years.

  • The curricular mapping initiative, which builds on the work of faculty at the University of California at Berkeley's Townsend Center for the Humanities, seeks to sustain broad and coherent liberal education for juniors and seniors outside their majors.  It calls on a college faculty to construct conceptual pathways or networks within the existing curriculum that will guide students' choices or inspire them to look for such threads on their own.

  • The numerous grants providing for postdoctoral fellowships offer vitally important opportunities for pedagogical training and gainful employment to new PhD-recipients in the humanities while enabling colleges to enrich their curricula and diversify their faculties.  They also serve to promote the pursuit of scholarly research in the liberal arts college setting.

  • Over the past few years environmental studies has emerged as one of the Foundation's strongest areas of grantmaking to liberal arts colleges, and this was especially true in 2008.  This swiftly accelerating trajectory of Foundation support reflected students' and faculties' growing interest in interdisciplinary, project focused learning, field- and community-based research, civic engagement, and the use of common first-year and capstone experiences to create intellectual community.

Toward the end of 2008, the program initiated discussions with its grantees about the effects of the recession and began alerting them to the likelihood of a reduced program budget in the years ahead.  The program plans to reassert its longstanding commitment to flexibility as it responds to the needs of the colleges from which it invites proposals.  Two grantees established by the Foundation, partly with the needs of the liberal arts colleges sector in mind, the National Institute for Technology and Liberal Education (NITLE) and Emeriti Retirement Health Solutions, encountered predictable challenges in the second half of 2008, owing to the economic downturn, and started revisiting their plans for the future.  Meanwhile, the workshops for faculty and librarians conducted by Susan Perry, the program’s senior advisor, in collaboration with NITLE and the Council of Independent Colleges continued apace, as did Perry's work with college libraries and with the American International Consortium of Academic Libraries.

The HBCU program continued to award grants in support of institution-building, faculty development, and libraries.  The program also continued its support for curriculum development, where there was an increased focus on globalization, interdisciplinary coursework, and undergraduate research programs.  The HBCU program continued its work with UNCF on its review of private HBCUs.  The Foundation also saw the successful completion of the emergency $2 million challenge made to Fisk University in 2007 in an attempt to alleviate a financial crisis.  Fisk raised the requisite $4 million match by June 30, 2008.  Fisk's experience was a harbinger of the financial difficulty facing the entire HBCU sector as a result of the current financial crisis.

In July 2008, the ACA welcomed its second president, Paul Chewning, former president of West Virginia Independent Colleges & Universities, Inc.  Mr. Chewning succeeds Alice Brown, who retired after more than 25 years of effective leadership.  The ACA, a consortium of 37 colleges, continues to provide faculty development programs and educational support to its members through the Bowen Central Library of Appalachia, a digital library named in honor of the Foundation's former president, William G. Bowen.  In 2008, ACA also launched an undergraduate research program in collaboration with the University of North Carolina at Asheville.

Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowships and Diversity Initiatives

Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowships and Diversity Initiatives

In 2008, senior staff recommended that the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowships (MMUF) program be expanded.  Eight new schools were selected and invited into MMUF.  They were Connecticut College; Grinnell College; Northwestern University; the University of California at Berkeley; the University of California at Los Angeles; the University of the Western Cape, South Africa; the University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa (added December 2007); and Whittier College, bringing the total of MMUF affiliates to 42, including three South African institutions and the consortium of 39 UNCF institutions.  These new institutions will broaden the program’s geographical representation in the Midwest, on the West Coast and in South Africa.  The University of Cape Town was appointed as the regional administrative center for the South African institutions.  This expansion was consistent with the results of a program review in 2007 of MMUF that covered the years 1999 to 2007.  The last such evaluation was completed in 1998.

In June 2008 MMUF celebrated its 20th anniversary with an event held at the New York Public Library, attended by over 500 graduate and postgraduate fellows, along with senior staff and Trustees of the Foundation, the president and senior staff from the Social Science Research Council (which administers the MMUF Graduate Initiatives Program), and representatives from the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation (which administers the Mellon Junior Faculty Career Enhancement Program and the Dissertation and Travel and Research Grants).  These programs and grants have increased graduate student retention, shortened doctoral completion times, and helped to build a wide and enduring network of Mellon fellows nationally and internationally.  At the end of 2008, 250 MMUF fellows had earned PhDs (including 25 tenured faculty members), 540 PhDs were in progress, and over 400 undergraduates were still in train.  A total of approximately 3,000 students have been selected for MMUF over its 20-year history.

The MMUF is supplemented by other important initiatives that aim to diversify faculties of the future.  These include two programs overseen by the American Indian College Fund, a dissertation completion initiative and a research sabbatical program in the Tribal College system.  Both are designed to increase the number of Native American and Tribal Colleges faculty members who hold PhDs.  In line with these efforts, a program developed at the University of Alaska at Fairbanks was instituted to support Native Alaskan faculty members seeking to finish their PhDs.  Other programs also aim at increasing the number of PhDs from historically underrepresented groups on American and South African faculties and at supporting their research, such as the Institute for Recruitment of Teachers at Phillips Academy-Andover, the Future of Minority Studies at Cornell University, the Moore Undergraduate Research Apprentice Program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, a field environmental study program with the Organization of Tropical Studies in Costa Rica and the Kruger National Park in South Africa, and summer humanities programs at the Schomberg Center for Research in Black Culture and Wheaton College in Massachusetts, to name a few.  The majority of programs within Diversity Initiatives are designed to encourage underrepresented students and faculty to pursue the PhD and to advance their scholarship, and thus far they have all been successful.

Scholarly Communications

Scholarly Communications

The Foundation's Scholarly Communications program was led in 2008 by Donald J. Waters and Helen Cullyer, who succeeded Suzanne M. Lodato.  Prior to joining the Foundation, Ms. Cullyer was assistant professor of classics at the University of Pittsburgh.

The objectives of the Scholarly Communications program and its priorities for 2009–2010 are described more fully in Appendix A.  Its 2008 grantmaking activities are briefly summarized here.  Among the year's most significant highlights was a major restructuring of the Foundation’s support for ongoing efforts in libraries and archives to make their unique special collections more accessible for research and teaching.

Studies by the Association of Research Libraries and others suggest that a significant percentage of the primary source materials that cultural institutions have painstakingly collected to fuel humanistic scholarship remains uncataloged and effectively "hidden" from scholars.  Since 2000, the Mellon Foundation has helped address the hidden collections problem by making 65 cataloging grants totaling $21.9 million through the Scholarly Communications program.  In 2008, the University of Pennsylvania, the Huntington Library, and the University of California at Los Angeles each received grants to catalog their collections.  However, after extensive consultation with librarians, archivists, and other experts, staff concluded that the Foundation could make a more effective ongoing contribution by shifting from an internally administered program of grants to a national, competitive, peer-reviewed granting program for the cataloging of hidden special collections in US cultural institutions.  The Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) thus received funds to set up and administer the first year of such a national program, which will run for approximately five years and disburse a total of at least $20 million.

In addition to being hidden from scholars' view, a growing number of special collections now include material in a variety of media.  This is especially true in the records of prominent writers, scholars, or politicians, which now tend to include paper documents, as well as a variety of born-digital materials, such as computer files, e-mail, and digital images.  Research libraries are only just beginning to develop the necessary tools and procedures for processing, managing, preserving, and providing secure access to born-digital materials in their archival collections.  In order to help build the necessary capacity for libraries to collect these materials, staff have awarded support to the University of Oxford to enhance the workflows and preservation mechanisms needed to process its born-digital archives, particularly the documents of the conservative party.

The Scholarly Communications program also supported projects that are designed to advance scholarship in a number of fields by making primary source documents electronically available.  With Foundation support in the field of medieval studies, the Parker on the Web project moved into its fourth and final production phase.  This multi-year effort aims to produce a complete, high-resolution digital representation of the famed Parker Library of rare and unique medieval manuscripts at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, and to build an interactive Web application in which the manuscript pages can be studied in the context of editions, translations, and secondary materials.  A separate award was made to St. Louis University, for a new electronic edition of the Norman Anonymous, an Anglo-Norman manuscript in the Parker library.  The edition will be accessible online along with previous partial editions of the manuscript, and the images from the Parker on the Web collection.  In addition, the Foundation awarded grants for a small group of scholarly projects that make use of digitized manuscripts from Parker on the Web and other initiatives, such as the Foundation-funded effort at Johns Hopkins University to develop a Web-based resource containing multiple manuscript versions of the 13th-century romance, Le Roman de la Rose.  This group of projects includes a comparative study of race and ethnicity and the development of editions of medieval maps of the world.  At a workshop in 2010, these and other scholars will present the results of their research, and will develop a list of requirements and an implementation plan for improving the usability and interoperability of electronic resources in the field of medieval studies.

In Classical and Near Eastern Studies, the Foundation provided support for two collaborative projects that are making available online primary source documents that are scattered among the world’s museums and libraries, and for developing tools for the online editing of these documents.  With the British Museum, the University of Pennsylvania Museum, and the Max Planck Institute, the University of California at Los Angeles is digitizing cuneiform tablets of important literary and documentary texts, and making them available through the California Digital Library.  Similarly, scholars at Duke University, New York University’s Institute for Studies in the Ancient World, and other institutions around the world received assistance for building an online large corpus of digitized ancient papyri and related information.  In 2008, Duke received a second round of funding for the project to use in the development of an online collaborative editing tool.

In the field of archaeology, most data are now collected in digital formats, but in the US there are no commonly agreed upon standards and little capacity for preserving and providing access to the databases, electronic field notes, digital images, and other materials that document archaeological findings.  To help remedy this situation, Arizona State University received Foundation funding to launch Digital Antiquity, a repository for archaeological data from US field projects.

Finally, in the Scholarly Communications program, several institutions received support for scholarly publishing initiatives: Northwestern University, as part of the Universities and their Presses initiative, for enriching its leading programs in African Studies and performance studies with an expanded range of publications; the Society of Architectural Historians for the electronic publication of its Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians; the American Philological Association for increasing the usability of the electronic version of L’Année Philologique; and the University of York for the online journal, Internet Archaeology, to commission articles based on four US archaeological projects.

Museums and Art Conservation

Museums and Art Conservation

The program for Museums and Art Conservation, directed by Angelica Z. Rudenstine with the assistance of Program Associate Alison H. Gilchrest, has continued its efforts to help outstanding art museums build and sustain their capacity to undertake serious scholarship on their permanent collections; preserve these collections, share the results of their work in appropriate ways with scholarly and other audiences, and advance the training of future generations of conservators.

The program's grantmaking in 2008 was especially focused on the reinvigoration of the College and University Art Museum program that was established in 1992 and brought to a conclusion in 2004.  During those years, a diverse group of 18 museums, including public and private institutions with a broad range of collections, received spendable grants for a variety of academic purposes: to encourage scholarly research on permanent collections; to foster relationships and stimulate scholarship and teaching by faculty from a wider range of departments than had been possible in the past; to offer internship training opportunities at both the graduate and undergraduate levels; and above all to strengthen the intensive study of original works of art in the curricula and other aspects of college and university programs.  Of the museums that originally received spendable grants, 13 eventually received endowment challenges to sustain the initiatives that had been established.

In 2006, an outside evaluation of the program's history was undertaken.  It examined the extent to which the overarching goals had been accomplished, and found that "campus museums are uniquely positioned to contribute to the core goals of a liberal arts education by demonstrating that original works of art demand and foster the most rigorous critical thinking."  The report concluded that the program had been "profoundly successful in guiding these museums toward closer integration with the academic enterprise" and had given "rise to widespread reexamination of mission and priorities resulting in a consensus that the core academic agenda [of each institution] should be the museums' primary focus."  Because many museums in the first cohort had succeeded beyond their expectation in developing relationships with faculty across a broad range of disciplines, the museums found themselves short of staff and other resources to meet growing faculty demand for access to collections.  Compelling arguments were therefore made in favor of instituting another cycle of endowment challenge grants for a number of these institutions, as well as for the addition of a second cohort to receive initial spendable funding.  During 2008, over $9.5 million was awarded in endowment challenge grants to eight institutions, and $3 million in spendable grants to six new museums.

A second important area of focus during the past year was the continuing effort to strengthen the role of science within art conservation.  Additional senior positions as well as postdoctoral fellowships for scientists were created at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and The Art Institute of Chicago.  In the latter case, spendable funding was also awarded to support the strong collaborative relationships that have been established with faculty in materials science and related disciplines at Northwestern University and Argonne National Laboratory.  Some of these new positions in science have been endowed, and it is now possible to assess the considerable extent to which a broad national program in conservation science has begun to emerge.

The Foundation's efforts in developing the field of photograph conservation over the past decade reached a major turning point in 2007.  Ten years of full funding for the Advanced Residency Program in photograph conservation (ARP) at George Eastman House (GEH) was scheduled to come to an end in July 2009.  During its decade of operation, it had trained a total of 40 individuals representing 20 countries, and had also borne full responsibility for the conservation laboratory at GEH, including the care of its 400,000 prints and negatives.

In order to sustain the advances achieved, the Foundation approved three grants intended to place important programmatic elements on a permanent basis: a $3 million challenge grant to establish a newly endowed conservation department at GEH was awarded in late 2007; a five-year grant of $2 million to create a Center for the Legacy of Photography (CLP) under the leadership of Grant Romer (GEH) and James Reilly (Image Permanence Institute at the Rochester Institute of Technology) was awarded in early 2008.  Recognizing the pressing need to draw a sharp distinction between recently developed digital imaging and silver halide photography, the CLP intends to focus on preserving the technical, aesthetic, and historical legacy of chemically-based photography through broad ranging scientific and scholarly research, workshops, and forums, as well as through Web-based publications, to further understanding of the chemistry, materials, and processes of the medium.  During the decade of the ARP, a series of 18 workshops for young and midlevel professionals covering a wide range of topics in photograph conservation has fostered close collaboration among conservators, curators, scientists, and photographers.  These workshops (under the auspices of the University of Delaware) have proved to be invaluable, nationally and internationally, for midcareer practitioners and scholars.  A third grant, for a $1 million endowment, was awarded in 2008 to the Foundation of the American Institute for Conservation to sustain the collaborative workshop model.

A fourth area of focus during the past year has been the continuing effort to address problems in the curatorial profession, especially in its scholarly dimension, through the creation and establishment of three-year Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Curatorial Fellowships.  These fellowships offer compensation levels competitive with analogous junior positions at colleges and universities, adding impetus to the museum profession's own efforts to raise its salaries across the board.  Two such fellowship programs have been endowed in 2008, one at the Walters Art Museum and the other at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Performing Arts

Performing Arts

The Foundation's performing arts program is overseen by Susan Feder and Diane Ragsdale.  It seeks to strengthen leading theaters and playwriting centers, orchestras, opera and modern dance companies, dance-specific presenters, and service organizations that support these institutions, by enhancing their artistic quality and organizational efficacy.

In supporting theaters, the Foundation has recently shifted its grantmaking in response to a number of prevailing concerns surrounding the development and production of new works in the American theater, including: the trend for new plays to be overdeveloped or workshopped in lieu of being produced; the decline in the rigor, diversity, scale, and scope of works being produced by regional theaters; the failure of many new plays to be produced after their premieres; and the inability of even the most talented playwrights to find an "artistic home" or make a living in the theater.  The Foundation now seeks to support leading theaters that demonstrate a sustained commitment to artists and flexible artistic production; a distinctive artistic vision; a history of producing new works, particularly those that are large-scale or otherwise artistically ambitious; the capacity to engage audiences fully with the works they are producing; and effective collaborations with other theaters, playwriting centers, or university training programs aimed at supporting the development, production, and continued life of new works.  In addition to an initial round of grants to several exemplary theaters, the Foundation awarded significant multiyear grants to four leading playwriting centers in recognition of the important role they play in the development of playwrights and their works.

Staff presented the Trustees a summary assessment of the Foundation's decade-long Orchestra Program, noting both its positive results and weaknesses.  Looking forward, grantmaking will respond to conclusions program participants reached about their financial health, namely that it depends on interrelating artistic activities, internal organizational culture, and community relationships; none of these alone is sufficient to create successful and sustainable institutions.  In addition to supporting artistic ambition and risk-taking in this context, staff have identified several areas in which support would help strengthen orchestras as they confront a swiftly changing cultural and economic landscape; these would include integrating new technologies into the concert experience and into marketing, development, and audience engagement efforts; experiments with new business models; leadership training for executives, trustees, and musicians; and research projects that would help orchestras obtain a better understanding of their audiences and communities.  Grants awarded to orchestras in 2008 reflected these strategies.  Opera grants included a major award to the Metropolitan Opera in further support of its live film transmissions and television broadcasts; other grants will continue the Foundation's support to companies with a demonstrated long-term commitment to the commissioning and production of new and recent operas.  A grant to Jazz at Lincoln Center will support the expansion of its artistic programming to include festivals and cross-disciplinary collaborations among its orchestra, guest artists, and ensembles.

In dance, significant grants were awarded to three service organizations in support of programs that are consistent with current priorities of the Foundation's dance program: the American Music Center, to endow its Live Music for Dance program; the Dance Heritage Coalition, to develop and pilot the Secure Media Network, a searchable, digital repository of historic dance media designed for access by scholars, artists, and educators; and the New England Foundation for the Arts (NEFA) to expand the National Dance Project, a program that supports the creation and touring of new dance works.

Several grants provided general support to the performing arts sector: the Fund for the City of New York received a substantial grant to establish a revolving loan fund that will provide bridge financing for performing arts institutions while they are awaiting reimbursement on capital grants from New York City; the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation received funding to expand a travel grant program for US performance ensembles; and the Pew Charitable Trusts was awarded a grant to help with the implementation in New York State of the Cultural Data Project, a Web-based data collection and funding application system, which holds the potential to become an important national research database and financial reporting tool for the cultural field.

Conservation and the Environment

Conservation and the Environment

The Foundation's Conservation and the Environment program, directed by William Robertson IV with Doreen N.Tinajero, continued efforts begun in 2003 to help a consortium of over 120 herbaria from more than 40 countries to develop a coordinated digital database of information and images on the plants of Africa and Latin America.  Central to this initiative are high-quality digital images (600dpi) of Type specimens (the original specimens used to identify species).  The Type images are augmented by reference works, photographs, and botanical art.  The participating herbaria are contributing images for all of the Types they hold and their estimates indicate that the total will be in excess of 2 million, with approximately 500,000 already submitted.  The database will be available as a collection within JSTOR (http://www.jstor.org).  The program welcomes communications from any institutions holding African or Latin American Type specimens that have yet to be included.

Research in Information Technology

Research in Information Technology

The Research in Information Technology (RIT) program presented the third round of Mellon Awards for Technology Collaboration to 11 institutions in the US, UK, and New Zealand.  This year's awards included several in the areas of archives and special collections, as well as the first award in conservation biology.

The program's administrative systems projects had a very successful year.  The Kuali Financial System (https://kuali.org/) secured the funding needed for its implementation, released another new version, and added more than a dozen new institutions to the list of those using it so far.  Kuali Coeus met its second delivery milestones and delivered its first version.  The new Kuali Student system added several new partners and moved toward an initial release.  The Fluid project (http://www.fluidproject.org), which supports the creation of user-friendly, accessibility-compliant user interfaces, has become the centerpiece of development activities in several projects, including an upcoming major upgrade to Sakai and ongoing improvements to uPortal.

Work on scholarly tools for the arts and humanities continued.  The Visual Understanding Environment and Sophie projects both issued new releases in 2008 and anticipate new version releases in 2009.  The Zotero personal citation management and Web research tool continued its very high rate of adoption: by the end of the year more than 9 million copies of Zotero were in active use worldwide.

Scholarly infrastructure projects also thrived.  Sakai continued to grow in terms of the number of institutions that have adopted it, and it has mounted a major redesign effort intended to lead to Sakai v.3 in 2009, using only community resources.  The SEASR project released its first version and attracted significant institutional interest via adoptions by digital humanities centers and academic technology organizations worldwide.  Funded in March, Project Bamboo began a community design exercise that attracted several hundred humanists from more than 130 higher education institutions, learned societies, scholarly presses, and museums worldwide.  Library and collections projects achieved significant milestones.  CollectionSpace completed its community design exercises, and scheduled its first code release for March 2009.  Project OLE ("Open Library Environment"), a planning project led by Duke University and other institutional partners seeking to design a next-generation suite of library automation services, held design workshops in the US and Australia.  Participants included several hundred institutions ranging from small liberal arts colleges to national libraries.  Inter-program collaborative efforts also flourished.  In December, RIT and Museums and Art Conservation collaborated on the funding of ConservationSpace (http://conspace.wixsite.com/conservationspace), an international project to integrate conservation documentation capabilities into collections management tools.  2008 also saw the funding of a project that brings together the Southern Arts Federation and the University of California at Berkeley to modify the Kuali Business Continuity Planning Tool to serve the emergency planning needs of arts organizations.  This is the first formal collaboration between arts organizations and higher education institutions on RIT-supported software.  Program staff also coordinated carefully with colleagues in Scholarly Communications on the SEASR and Bamboo projects.  Finally, two projects changed names in 2008.  Kuali Research Administration, funded in 2006, became Kuali Coeus.  OpenCollection, funded in 2007, became CollectionSpace.

Special International Emphases: South Africa

Special International Emphases: South Africa

Each year the South Africa program of the Foundation supports a mix of programs that have proven effective in educating the next generation of academics, some that offer promise for innovation in the academy, and some that expand knowledge and share it beyond academic and national borders.  The programs the Foundation supports build intellectual capacity, broaden research opportunities and outcomes, diversify intellectual perspectives, increase the numbers of South African academics in the world community of scholars, and strengthen South Africa’s democracy.

Grantmaking by the South Africa program seeks to develop scholars as well as support research on contemporary issues.  In 2008, the Foundation provided funding for fellowships in the humanities at the University of the Western Cape that will allow recent PhDs to carry their research forward to publication and for capacity-building programs at six institutions that make it possible for junior academic staff to complete higher degrees, conduct and publish research, purchase books and equipment, attend conferences, and/or work with colleagues in other institutions.  Because South Africa requires scholars to retire at 62 years of age to make positions available for younger academics, the Foundation continued to fund the return of senior research scholars to the academy so that they can mentor younger faculty in their research and teaching and guide them in professional publishing and interactions.  Grants to two institutions for visiting fellows will bring distinguished visitors to campuses for varying periods of time to introduce new thinking and stimulate innovation in humanities teaching and research.  A program at the University of Cape Town will review and conduct research on the role archives play in a democracy and the effects inherited archives have on national identity and political participation.

To expand educational opportunities in South Africa, the Foundation supported the establishment of a center for teaching and learning to explore innovative approaches to the educational process that can be used to accommodate differences in student preparation, enable educationally disadvantaged students to succeed in high-quality degree programs, and boost the graduation rate.  Grants were also made to strengthen social science research and to expand the use of technology in teaching.

The program’s third objective is to fund projects that introduce the world to South African history and culture and the achievements of the people of earlier times.  Further grants went to two projects that the Foundation has supported from exploration to budding to fruition: the digitization of southern African rock art and the African cultural heritage sites and landscapes database.  Through these two projects over 250,000 rock art images and 15 sites with 26 complex structures, respectively, have been digitized.  They are accessible via the Internet and are preserved for future generations.



[1] The press release announcing these awards can be viewed at: [http://www.mellon.org/news_publications/announcements-1/2007-distinguished-achievementaward-recipients-named/].  Return to text.

[2] A full list of recipients is available at: http://www.mellon.org/programs/higher-education-and-scholarship-humanities/fellowships/new-directions-fellowships/.  Return to text.

[3] A full list of fellows is available at: [http://www.mellon.org/grant_programs/programs/ higher-education-and-scholarship/emeritus-fellowships/#Recipients].  Return to text.

[4] A description of the program is available on the ACLS website, at: http://www.acls.org/grants/Default.aspx?id=3154.  Return to text.

[5] A list of funded Sawyer Seminars and their principal organizers is available at: http://www.mellon.org/programs/higher-education-and-scholarship-humanities/fellowships/sawyer-seminars/.  Return to text.