Professors Fear Loss of Federal Arts, Humanities Funding

Humanities professors and University administrators are bracing for the potential elimination of the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities under President Donald Trump’s administration, which some say could seriously hamper research at Harvard.

In January, The Hill reported that Trump was planning to shutter both foundations—which give thousands of dollars in grants annually to Harvard and other universities—as part of his plan to reduce government bureaucracy.

In the past fiscal year, the amount of funding Harvard received from non-federal sources like foundations and corporations increased at a higher rate than that from federal sources like the NEH and NEA. Earlier this year, some professors said they were concerned that federal funding would be further compromised under Trump.

Faculty of Arts and Sciences Dean Michael D. Smith said he is factoring in the possible elimination of these agencies as FAS designs its yearly budget.

Federal Funding in Fiscal Year 2016
Non-federal research funding increased by 14 percent in the past fiscal year, compared to a 3 percent increase in federal funding.
“It’s one of the things that we think about as we’re going through the budget process: What kind of changes might we see in the future if funding in the arts dries up, who’s going to be affected, what kind of research taking place on the campus,” he said. “We’ve made some changes in preparation, not necessarily for specifically what President Trump might do, but just in terms of the uncertainty and the overall environment in this place.”


English Department Chair James Simpson said elimination of the NEH would affect his colleagues' ability to get funding for sabbaticals.

“Our faculty really depend on the ability of fellowships to do research,” he said. “Without the NEH that ability would be much diminished.”

According to Harvard’s Office for Sponsored Programs’ annual report, researchers in the life sciences received almost half of Harvard’s federal and nonfederal grants in fiscal year 2016—$407 million—while the humanities received just $3 million, or less than 1 percent. Simpson said few professors in his department receive federal or foundation funding.

Over the years, the NEH and NEA have honored faculty members and funded hundreds of thousands of dollars in projects at Harvard.

Theater, Dance, and Media Chair Martin Puchner said that while the loss of the NEA and NEH likely wouldn’t affect undergraduates in his concentration, it would be a “disaster” for the theater scene.

“I think that this election, across the arts and humanities, has really reminded us why what we do is so important,” he said.

Effects of these potential cuts extend beyond the humanities, according to Government Department Chair Jennifer L. Hochschild, who said some researchers in her department rely on the NEH. Social sciences researchers received $98 million in federal and nonfederal grants in fiscal year 2016, or 12 percent of the University’s total.

Despite the uncertain future of the two agencies, Smith said there are other funding avenues for arts and humanities research.

“Lots of people are interested in supporting the arts. So you might be thinking, ‘well, this was my only avenue of funding’ and we’ve got to find whether there’s actually a potential to develop new avenues of funding, if one of them’s going to completely disappear,” he said. “I hope not. We hope that the NEA does not disappear, but we’re thinking about what to do if that happens.”

FAS has also begun to provide research funding for faculty itself. In March, Smith announced the Dean’s Competitive Fund for Promising Scholarship, which provides $2.5 million in grants to faculty annually. However, Smith said it is still important for Faculty to compete for federal and foundation money.

“We’ll certainly be fighting to keep the NEH,” Simpson said.

—Staff writer Joshua J. Florence contributed reporting for this article.

—Staff writer Mia C. Karr can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @miackarr.