March 22, 2006

University lobbyists urge support for the heart and soul of culture

Though lobbyists are suffering from an image problem these days, more than 100 academics and university representatives eagerly took on that role March 1-2 when they swarmed the halls of Congress and advocated for the humanities.

They passionately believe in their honorable cause, which is that federal funding for the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) supports projects that keep alive the heart and soul of American culture.

The annual Humanities Advocacy Day is organized by the National Humanities Alliance, a nonprofit coalition founded in 1981 to advance humanities policy. The event, co-sponsored by 32 national organizations, brings university representatives from all 50 states to Washington to visit their elected representatives.

"Cornell lobbies hard for the humanities, as it does for funding for the sciences, agriculture, veterinary medicine and other areas," said Stephen Philip Johnson, interim vice president for government affairs at Cornell. "The amount of available federal funding is far less than that of those other areas, but we make an effort to educate our representatives in Congress about how important that funding is on our campus."

Jacquie Powers, manager of federal relations; Barbara Eden, director of the library's Instruction, Research and Information Services/Department of Preservation and Collection Maintenance; and Linda Grace-Kobas, senior director of humanities communications, visited the House offices of Sherwood L. Boehlert, John McHugh, Sue Kelly, Randy Kuhl, Vito Fossella and John Sweeney March 2 to talk about the importance of NEH-funded programs at Cornell.

"This is a very tight budget year, and our federal officials have very difficult priorities to balance and decisions to make," Powers said. "We wanted them to know that the humanities are important to Cornell and to the nation, but we also wanted them to know that we understand the difficult choices they have to make."

Eden said, "It was fun to see the eyes of the legislative aides widen as we described the library projects and how Cornell provides worldwide access to its treasures as a result of NEH funding. We felt Cornell made its presence felt on the Hill."

The White House's proposed budget for fiscal year 2007 is a $2.77 trillion spending plan that recommends level-funding NEH with about $141 million.

Cornell has received $9.5 million in NEH funding over the past 10 years and received $2.8 million for 2006. Grants to academic researchers at Cornell have supported publications on such topics as James Madison and the founding of the American republic, migrant farmworkers in New York state, democratization in Europe and the post-Communist experience. Most of Cornell's NEH funding over the past decade (approximately $6.3 million) has supported preservation and digitization in Cornell University Library.

Current Cornell NEH-supported projects include:

Linda Grace-Kobas is senior director of Cornell's Office of Humanities Communications.