Higher Education and Scholarship in the Humanities

For the program in Higher Education and Scholarship in the Humanities (HESH), now overseen by Senior Program Officers Armando Bengochea and Dianne Harris, 2019 was a time of significant transition and future planning, alongside consolidation of existing emphases. Early in the year, HESH merged with the Foundation’s Diversity program, formalizing the previously close interaction between the leadership of both programs and signaling a more thoroughgoing integration in higher education grantmaking of our commitments to diversity, opportunity, and inclusion. Going forward, HESH staff will seek to accelerate a more deliberate distribution of resources to expand access and redress inequities throughout the system of higher education. Central to the program’s work will be the imperatives of building diverse faculties and student bodies; nurturing a diverse cadre of inspired institutional leaders; supporting the creation of inclusive narratives; and generating new knowledge. Close attention will be paid to the intellectual work of programs, scholars, and departments that foreground those efforts. The Foundation understands this work as necessary to support a healthy democracy and a just society that gives voice to an ever-widening breadth of narratives about American self-understanding.

10_IMG_2851.jpgCollege Horizons and Lawrence University support Native American and other underrepresented students in their transition from high school to college. Photo: Lawrence University and College Horizons.

A second, significant moment of transition occurred toward the end of 2019 with the retirement of Senior Program Officer Eugene (Gene) Tobin. His eighteen years of inspired leadership included, among many other accomplishments, wise stewardship of the Foundation’s grantmaking to liberal arts colleges and an expansion of its national role in supporting prison education. Much of the work Mr. Tobin led will continue, along with a range of other initiatives and grants made in alignment with the Foundation’s refreshed strategic framework, and undergirded by continued investment in the traditional programmatic research and curricular innovation that sustain the vitality of the humanities writ large.

Colleges and universities are under increasingly close scrutiny by many publics. Some of the most trenchant critiques stem from recent calls for decolonization and indigenization of the academy. In response, many institutions have articulated land acknowledgment statements that foreground original ownership of college and university sites by Native peoples and have highlighted the importance of Native American and Indigenous studies programs. These programs cover the history and culture of Native Americans in particular and often link to the experiences of Native peoples more broadly. Importantly, they also contextualize the claims to political sovereignty of Native peoples, a matter that distinguishes the field from other ethnic studies programs. In 2019, HESH made numerous grants to bolster existing programs or create new ones based on strong institutional plans. The University of Buffalo received a grant to create a new department of Indigenous studies that emphasizes research, scholarly training, language revitalization, and community outreach, while Brown University will establish a new major in Native American and Indigenous studies that draws significantly on the university’s already rich resources in Native American cultural materials and art, including the John Carter Brown Library and the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology. The University of Washington’s American Indian Studies Department and Center for American Indian and Indigenous Studies received support for faculty and graduate student research and development, as well as undergraduate student recruitment, engagement, and retention. A focus on developing various curricular pathways for undergraduates to study Native American history, culture, and politics at five institutions in Western Massachusetts is the focus of a new grant to the Five Colleges Consortium that will also include significant new faculty hiring and new advising structures. The University of California at Riverside will strengthen its nineteen-year-old California Center for Native Nations by establishing a tribal liaison position, faculty research fellowships, and a tribal scholar-in-residence. The University of North Carolina at Pembroke, founded in 1887 as a school for the education of American Indians, will build an undergraduate research and mentoring program designed to equip American Indian, first-generation, and other underrepresented students with the skills for graduate study in the humanities. Finally, support was renewed for Lawrence University in its partnership with College Horizons, an organization devoted to increasing college completion and pre-graduation readiness among Native American, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian students.

In 2015 the Foundation merged its previously separate program of support for liberal arts colleges with its grantmaking to research universities. This action constituted an acknowledgment that humanities research and teaching thrive equally well across multiple higher education sectors, and more readily permitted the identification of useful synergies in curriculum, scholarship, and pedagogy that move fields forward. Many liberal arts colleges long ago organized their missions around faculty and student engagement with nearby communities and the broader regional and national landscape. While continuing to study and improve teaching and learning on campus, their humanists and scientists have also successfully made lasting contributions to understanding grand challenges, including rural poverty, economic and social inequalities, global warming and environmental degradation, and restoration.

11_07_26_18_Paris_Young27.jpgThe Chesapeake Heartland project at Washington College, an African American humanities project in collaboration with local communities and the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. Photo: Washington College.

This tradition of engaging external environments and constituencies continues in current Foundation grantmaking to liberal arts colleges. Discernible in 2019 is the increased effort by colleges to engage communities as fully equal partners, with reciprocity and mutuality of interests defining the various funded projects. For example, Bennington College faculty and students are addressing the problem of food insecurity in rural Vermont; at Barnard College, work is under way to better understand immigration and immigrant rights and safety in New York City as well as matters of urban poverty as they impact health outcomes and criminal justice or the human rights of laborers; and Vassar College is incorporating into its academic culture community engagement in the city of Poughkeepsie, Dutchess County, and the Hudson Valley, creating opportunities for direct learning about criminal justice, public health, environmental farming and sustainability, urban planning, immigration and forced displacement, public art, and education and literacy. Grinnell, Rhodes, Washington, Occidental, and Whitman Colleges, among others, similarly created interventions with respect to some of these same or related themes. Despite the challenges they face in forging truly democratic partnerships across a wide spectrum of sometimes competing interests and forces, the institutions report that extraordinary benefits are being realized for curricular revitalization and undergraduate teaching and research.

Access to higher education and the social and economic mobility promised by a college or university degree has long been an American dream and an American promise. It is also an enduring feature of the HESH program’s commitment to the redress of inequalities—often deeply rooted in past societal injustices—that can erode the health of democracies. Developed by former Executive Vice President Mariët Westermann and now carried forward by Senior Program Officer Dianne Harris, HESH’s grantmaking strategy for strengthening the transfer pathways of community college students who wish to seek degrees at four-year institutions reflects its deep commitment to and belief in ensuring access to higher education for all those with the ability and desire to pursue it. Community colleges enroll more than 12 million students in the United States each year, providing excellent, affordable instruction that leads toward a two-year degree. Although approximately 80 percent of newly enrolled community college students profess a desire to matriculate to a four-year institution that would lead to the attainment of a baccalaureate degree, fewer than 14 percent actually do so. Now in its fifth year, our Community College University Partnership (CCUP) initiative seeks to address transfer success while also supporting students who wish to pursue humanities courses and majors. Providing resources for experimentation implemented through fifteen partnerships that successfully support students in and through the transfer process, CCUP also helps them realize the viability and importance of humanities courses and majors for their future lives and success. For example, the Humanities for All partnership that joins Johns Hopkins University (JHU) with the Community College of Baltimore County (CCBC) permits both the continued development and implementation of high-impact courses at CCBC that endeavor to help students apply a humanities mindset to their education and to their lives, while strengthening opportunities for transfer success. A Mellon Scholars Program includes the opportunity for students to participate in a ten-week residential program at JHU where CCBC students receive instruction in the techniques of humanities research by collaborating with JHU students and instructors.

A second round of support for the partnership between the University of California at San Diego and the San Diego Community College District will permit the expansion of their annual summer academy for students in the Preparing Accomplished Transfers to the Humanities (PATH) program, while also providing new resources for the Equal Opportunity Services Internship Initiative for humanities PhD students interested in community-college careers. These two grants also provide support to increase student outreach and retention through mentoring, to strengthen faculty connections between the two institutions, and to use digital technology for collaboration.

12_IC3.jpgIļisaġvik College facilitates transfers of community college students to four-year colleges and universities in Alaska. Photo: IĮisaġvik College.

A CCUP grant was also made to IĮisaġvik College, which is located in the North Slope Borough of Alaska in the city of Barrow, and serves Native Alaskan students who wish to attain a high-quality post-secondary education. With Foundation support, IĮisaġvik will enhance its ability to support the enrollment of students from rural Alaska villages and their transition to the post-secondary environment. IĮisaġvik will also facilitate transfers to four-year colleges and universities for its existing students by taking small cohorts of students to four-year colleges and universities in Alaska to help them begin the transition process. In each of the fifteen partnerships, important and replicable models exist that can be and are being implemented elsewhere, put to effective use for improved rates of student success and the acceleration of equitable degree attainment for the many first-generation, underrepresented, and Pell Grant–eligible students who begin their secondary education at a community college.

A significant aspect of the HESH program’s commitment to educational access consists in its continued support for prison education programs. Mass incarceration continues to proliferate across both the rural and urban United States, but the growth of prison education programs is an important counterforce. Viewed variously as a means to combat recidivism, as a way to help formerly incarcerated individuals resume healthy lives as prepared citizens on the outside, to restore measures of dignity, or as fulfillment of the basic human right to an education, prison education programs are on the rise. As with its work elsewhere, the Foundation seeks to support exemplary programs that can serve as models for others that might develop nationwide.

13_NPEP-8435.jpgStudents in the Northwestern Prison Education Program (NPEP). Photo: NPEP.

This past year saw HESH support several additional programs, including those offered by Hudson Link for Higher Education in Prison and its efforts to provide high-quality education for incarcerated individuals in five correctional facilities throughout the Hudson Valley in New York; California State University, Los Angeles, for its degree-granting program and reentry support for incarcerated and formerly incarcerated students; and Columbia University’s Center for Justice, which hosts the Beyond the Bars program and awards fellowships that offer students and community members an opportunity to develop a deeper understanding of mass incarceration and social change. With each of HESH’s prison education grants, staff see pedagogical innovations that are poised to become national models for faculty and students both on the inside and on the outside. Staff also see grantee efforts as important and productive interventions in the national dialogue about mass incarceration and its disproportionate impacts on communities of color.

As global politics become ever more volatile, and as military actions around the world increase in frequency, scholars are likewise increasingly targeted for persecution. Among the most vulnerable members of unstable societies, intellectuals who study and write from a critical framework across the humanities and the humanities-inflected social sciences are disproportionately targeted by oppressive regimes and threatened with loss of livelihood, separation from family, violence, imprisonment, and sometimes death. With clear-eyed recognition of the impact made by refugee scholars on the intellectual development of entire fields of inquiry in the United States during and after the two world wars of the twentieth century, the HESH program seeks to support scholars at risk and in exile. With a grantmaking strategy that was also originally developed by Ms. Westermann and is now carried forward by Ms. Harris, the initiative supports a range of institutions that specialize in aiding intellectuals who have had to flee their home countries. Through its allocation of resources, the Foundation endeavors to sustain and support the contributions of these scholars to their fields of study, and to contribute to the network of opportunities that provide for their physical and intellectual safety. Accordingly, HESH made grants in the past year to the Council for At-Risk Academics to support a program for Syrian scholars in exile; to The New School to support the work of the New University in Exile Consortium and a public lecture series on the immigration narrative in the United States; and to the University of Duisburg-Essen to continue support for scholars at risk at the Academy in Exile. HESH also led global conversations and supported the creation of a network of funders and not-for-profit agencies focused on this urgent problem and its rapidly shifting contours.

The Foundation’s focus on the ever-shifting landscape of graduate education continues to respond to emerging data on the decreasing opportunities for tenure-track employment within the academy. But Mellon also now focuses increasingly on supporting efforts that would redesign doctoral education in the humanities to make curricula and programs more student-centered. Such doctoral programs endeavor to be far more transparent about their admission practices and funding opportunities; encourage curricular innovation that supports diverse career pathways; offer mentoring and academic advising that likewise validate such diverse career choices; and provide data that help potential and current students more accurately to understand their career prospects. At the University of Pittsburgh, Humanities Engage is a cross-disciplinary project that supports an expansion—both in depth and in breadth—of its humanities doctoral curriculum. Building on prior Foundation support for its Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh project and support from a National Endowment for the Humanities Next Generation PhD grant, Pittsburgh is implementing discipline-based and interdisciplinary curricular changes across its humanities doctoral programs that include opportunities for fellowships in the nonprofit, public, and corporate sectors. Pittsburgh is also creating a new position for a director of graduate advising and engagement who will revise and update the university’s practices for doctoral advising and mentoring to comply with the latest research on best practices. And at American University, MA and PhD students in the public history program will participate in the Humanities Truck project. Using a customized truck as a mobile platform for their work, graduate students receive on-the-ground training in community engagement and public history—collecting, exhibiting, preserving, and expanding dialogues that focus on local histories in underserved neighborhoods within the District of Columbia.

As part of its commitment to accelerating the diversification of higher education leadership, the HESH program provided support for thirteen visionary provosts, chancellors, and presidents from across institutional sectors. Each grant is to be used to pilot experimental programs to attract underrepresented faculty from the humanities and arts by providing mentorship and immersive opportunities for those who have demonstrated interest in and capacity for administration at various institutional levels. An additional grant to the University of Southern California will also permit a range of opportunities for postdoctoral fellows and faculty to learn about and gain experience in higher education administration.

14_AW7A6388-mmuf2019_.jpgMellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship 2019 Coordinators Conference. Photo: The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation/Richard Koek.

Finally, the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship (MMUF) program celebrated its thirtieth anniversary in 2019. The occasion was marked by a conference called Pipelines, Pathways, Futures, which highlighted MMUF’s accomplishments and featured comparative perspectives on peer programs aimed at national faculty diversification. MMUF remains vital to an understanding of the conditions that help nurture young scholars of color in the humanities from their undergraduate years through doctoral study and into their early careers as faculty. More than fifty institutional partnerships constitute the MMUF program and, as of this writing, the program has generated nearly 900 PhDs, approximately 580 of whom are currently teaching in the academy. Several hundred other fellows who have completed their doctorates are working in government, the nonprofit world, museums and arts organizations, higher education administration, and numerous other fields. Of those currently holding faculty positions, 430 fellows are either tenured or in tenure-track positions, while more than 150 others hold postdoctoral fellowships or are lecturers and visiting faculty.