October 31, 2010

President Skorton Commits to National Campaign for the Arts and Humanities

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Cornell President David Skorton announced Friday his plan to launch a national campaign “in the next couple of months” to bolster investment in the arts and humanities, which have been underfunded over the past 16 years, he said.Skorton’s remarks about supporting the arts and humanities, which were part of his State of the University address, come as students and professors have criticized Day Hall for too severely cutting budgets and scaling back resources in the fine arts. Budget cuts and staff layoffs last spring in the Theatre, Flim and Dance Department and, more recently, a drastic overhaul of the Cornell Council for the Arts announced several weeks ago both sparked a torrent of criticism of the administration.The criticisms leveled at the administration about Cornell’s support of the arts appear to have informed, at least partly, Skorton’s speech.For instance, Skorton cited the writing of Prof. David Feldshuh, theater, as evidence for why the humanities are a prerequisite for responsible citizenship.It is important to “recognize and support the value of the humanities as a discipline of research and critical analysis in its own right and on its own terms,” he said.Skorton spent significant time in his speech laying out the case for increased funding of the arts and humanities.“At a very fundamental level, the arts and the humanities teaches us what it means to be human,” he said. “Music teaches in a way that we cannot replicate with words,” and art and literature can be similarly powerful, he said.Despite their importance, the arts and humanities have been largely underfunded, at a national level, over the past 16 years, Skorton said.In fiscal year 2010, funding for the both the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts was about one-third less, in inflation-adjusted dollars, from 1994 levels, Skorton said. During the same period, comparing inflation-adjusted dollars, funding for the National Institutes of Health has nearly doubled and funding for the National Science Foundation has more than doubled, he said.Skorton criticized both Democratic and Republican members of Congress for cutting funding for the arts and humanities.“These two important cultural agencies [the NEH and NEA] have been tempting targets for those seeking to advance particular political or social or religious agendas, or to show fiscal restraint,” he said.One challenge in attracting support for the humanities, according to Skorton, is the inherent difficulty in quantifying their value.“The need for investment in [the arts and humanities] is less intuitively obvious to many people than, say, investments to find cures for disease, or alternative sources of energy, or to alleviate poverty or malnutrition,” he said.Though Skorton’s speech lacked specifics of what precisely his Cornell-led national campaign for the arts and humanities will entail, he pledged assertive leadership in advocating for more funding.“University presidents don’t do enough in terms of using the bully pulpit to try to influence public policy,” Skorton said in response to a question from the audience of trustees and University Council members. “University presidents are timid in general. We’re very worried about upsetting people who might invest in the university.”But, “we have to get beyond that,” he said.Skorton also affirmed his support for the humanities at Cornell with regard to faculty hiring, which was another theme of his address.“Now is the time for Cornell to step up and advocate nationally for the arts and humanities, as locally we recruit faculty that will define this university for a generation,” he said.For instance, over the next decade the College of Arts and Sciences will hire 100 humanists at different stages of their careers in order to ensure a regular rate of retirement, according to Skorton.

Original Author: Michael Stratford