On March 16, 2017 President Donald Trump released his proposed 2018 federal budget plan. The proposed plan is titled “America First: A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again,” reflecting the president’s previous campaign rhetoric.
The proposed budget includes drastic changes to many departments including defense, education, environmental protection agency and health and human services.
In the introduction to his budget Trump wrote, “The core of my first budget blue print is the rebuilding of our nation’s military without adding to our Federal deficit. There is a $54 billion dollar increase in defense spending in 2018, that is offset by targeted reductions elsewhere.”
These “reductions” include eliminating funding to foreign aid agencies such as the African Development foundation, as well as internal agencies such as the Interagency Council on Homelessness. The budget also calls to zero-out the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH).
In an article written on NPR, according to Americans for the Arts, the NEA’s annual appropriation supports a $730 billion arts and cultural industry, 4.8 million jobs and a $26 billion trade surplus for the nation.
“The arts reflect the human condition as expressed in our culture,” said Patricia Beachley, director of the arts program at SHU. “To remove arts funding is to take away our culture identity as a nation.”
The NEH funds research, education, preservation and public programs in the humanities. Debra Faszer-McMahon, chairperson of the division of humanities at SHU had more to say on the importance of NEH and NEA and the consequences of eliminating funding to the programs. She responded with a Q&A session.
Q: What is the importance of the humanities in our community?
A: “The Arts and Humanities are essential for the ongoing vitality and well-being of our communities, particularly small and rural communities like our own here at SHU. The NEH and NEA were founded in 1965 under the Administration of Lyndon B. Johnson. He said the purpose of these organizations was to meet “not only the needs of the body and demands of commerce but the desire for beauty and the hunger for community” (“Great Society Speech,” University of Michigan, May 22, 1964). Both the NEH and the NEA have very small budgets compared to nearly any other government program, but they provide important funding so that smaller communities are able to maintain libraries, run museums, support artists and help bridge community conflicts and divides.”
Q: What is the National Endowment for the Humanities and does it contribute to Seton Hill University?
A: “This past month, one of our Humanities faculty members, Dr. Laura Patterson, received notice of a grant from the NEH to attend a faculty professional development workshop this summer related to her teaching and research: “Elizabeth Bishop and the Literary Archive.” Dr. Patterson will be funded to attend a three-week seminar during the summer months and to develop teaching and research projects to bring back to SHU.”
“Fulbright grants are also at risk, and losing such support would be a devastating blow to both faculty and students. For example, last week we had a Fulbright scholar on campus, Dr. Gabi Abramac, who spoke on the immigration crisis in Europe and offered a community wide public presentation.”
“Smaller, rural institutions like SHU cannot afford to bring in internationally renowned scholars like Dr. Abramac without the support of organizations like the NEH, the NEA and the Fulbright program. Those programs offer important cultural and artistic opportunities for everyone in the region.”
“We also have a 2016 graduate of Seton Hill who was sponsored by our institution for a Fulbright grant and received funding from Fulbright to live and teach in Spain during the 2016-2017 academic year. That student is from a very small town in Western PA, a first generation college student, and someone who would never have been able to spend a year abroad without Fulbright support.”
Q: What problems would be posed if the National Endowment for the Humanities were to be cut from funding?
A: “To put the funding in context, less than 0.0004 percent of the federal budget is spent on the NEH or NEA, which makes those federal funds a minute investment with a large impact for our students and our local communities. As a point of contrast, the current budget proposal from President Trump advocates building a border wall which would cost nearly 150 times as much, and experts generally agree that a border wall would be an ineffective immigration prevention strategy. The NEH and NEA fund grants to all 50 states and in all congressional districts, with 40 percent of that money given to states to spend directly themselves or via matching grants, which also then encourages local investment in community building and
Q: Do you have any additional comments on this topic?
A: “SHU’s mission is to educate students to act critically, creatively and ethically in order to transform the world. That is exactly what Arts and Humanities offer — opportunities for reflection and deep analysis, the sharing of stories via diverse imaginative medium and the humility to recognize the ethical responsibility that we have towards others in our midst. Losing these organizations would damage every small community’s ability to address the most intractable and important conversations of our times. I hope that all members of the SHU community will speak in support of saving the NEH and the NEA.”