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"Everett C. Albers" <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]>
Sun, 22 Jan 1995 18:21:45 -0800
text/plain (115 lines)
The following is the text of an opinion about what is going to be happening=
with the National Endowment for the Humanities next Tuesday, January 24 --
The quiet sister agency of the National Endowment for the Arts, the
Humanities Endowment, comes before Congress Tuesday, January 24, the
afternoon before President Clinton's State of the Union Address. Four
witnesses are scheduled to appear before Ohio Republican Ralph Regula's
Interior Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee. Among the
nine Republicans is Louisiana's Robert Livingston, who chairs
The five Democrats who will listen to former NEH Chairmen Lynne V.
Cheney and William J. Bennett include Sid Yates of Illinois, Ranking
Minority Member who is serving his sixteenth term in Congress. On the
agenda is cutting the current NEH appropriation. The former NEH heads
will be joined by former National Endowment for the Humanities Council
members Edwin J. Delattre and Getrude Himmelfarb in calling for recission,
perhaps even total abolishment of the agency formed by Congress in 1965
in legislation which declared that "The humanities belong to all the people
of the United States."=7F
Both Cheney and Bennett, now Senior Fellows of The American Enterprise
Institute, once spoke eloquently for the NEH. Both often quoted philosopher
Charles Frankel, who said of the 1965 authorizing legislation, "Nothing has
happened of greater importance in the history of American humanities
scholarship than the invitation of the government to scholars to think in a
more public fashion . . . with the presence of their fellow citizens in=
Most of what the NEH supports is not the stuff of headlines. Few Americans
know about saving 600,000 brittle books in 70 libraries over the last 15
years; about giving modest support to about 100 seminars and institutes
for elementary and secondary teachers on such topics as the New England
Renaissance, Classic Works of American Federal Democracy, Athenian
Democracy and Its Legacy, and Charles Dickens and the 1840's in England;
or about the microfilming of 52 million pages of newspapers in 47 states
and two territories since 1982.
In an average year, the 55 state affiliates of the NEH draw six million to
humanities programs where scholars meet the public directly, another 10
million to exhibits, and an estimated 150 million to radio and television
The big three arguments against continuing the NEH will focus on spending
even the modest seventy cents per American (annual budget of $177
million) at a time when all agree government must cut spending; on what
detracters call the leftist, liberal politics and philosophy of the academic
humanities community; and on what some have termed "welfare for the
privileged" in the belief that the programs appeal to a limited, rather
wealthy audience.
Before the NEH "goes gentle into that good night," as poet Dylan Thomas
said of death, there may be another hearing, equal time to remind Congress
that the NEH is still very much about the activity that Cheney and Bennett
found so essential to American democracy short years ago. What was only
well begun, as Lynne Cheney so eloquently said in her 1988 _Humanities in
American Life_, continues in much the same way it did during her tenure
and that of Chairman Bennett. What current Chairman Sheldon Hackney
has asked for is no more than using the best texts we can possibly find in
the rich cultural humanities works as a means for "all of our people --=
right, and center -- to examine and discuss what unites us as a country,
what we share as common American values."
Let the issue be clearer than it now is. The NEH supports programs for the
public, for the millions who have enjoyed Ken Burns' _Civil War_ and
_Baseball_; for the thousands who have read the treasured books in the
Library of America which will become family heirlooms, the works of
Jefferson and Melville and the dozens of others in definitive editions on
acid-free paper; and for the tens of millions who have participated in=
projects in the smallest of communities in every state and territory.
It is not, finally, a question of money. In comparison to what the poorest=
nations which have ever existed have taxed themselves for preservation,
celebration and examination of cultural heritage, the NEH budget is
miniscule. It is a question of value, of whether or not there will be=
recognition for the life of the mind and spirit by the most materially
comfortable citizens who ever came together. NEH is in the tradition of the
citizens of Florence taxing themselves to hear Boccaccio lecture on the
works of Dante and the Athenians supporting their theater.
 Finally, if indeed university and college faculty have lost touch with core
American values and ideals, the NEH is an antidote rather than a contributer
to that which Bennett has called "the devaluing of America."  Thomas
Jefferson, was often quoted by former NEH Chairmen as well as the
gentleman and scholar, current NEH Chairman Sheldon Hackney, who
would have all American citizens have access to excellence in the
humanities. Jefferson wrote, "Enlighten the people generally, and every
form of tyranny, both of mind and body, will disappear."
America is a democracy. We cannot afford to send our humanities scholars
back to ivory towers. Chief among its many virtues, which include loyalty to
the very best of American heritage, so praised by Bennett in his _Book of
Virtues_, is NEH's unwavering insistence upon making the humanities
available to every citizens of the United States. Let the future of the=
agency be decided by asking ourselves if we are ready to forsake all that
can be done with so little, the price of a burger or half the cost of a=
 piece of
American apple pie.
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Everett C. Albers
ND Humanities Council
2900 Broadway E., Suite 3
PO Box 2191
Bismarck, ND 58502-2191
FAX: 701-223-8724
TELEPHONE: 701-255-3360