On Jan 23, I received an unnerving email from the Society for American Archaeology alerting its members that the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) were proposed to be completely eliminated under the new federal budget plan.
As The Hill reports, in addition to these cuts, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting is set to be privatized as well. This budget plan is said to closely resemble the “Blueprint for Balance: A Federal Budget for 2017,” a 180-page publication put forth by conservative think tank The Heritage Foundation. This document proposes significant cuts in federal spending (totaling 10.5 trillion dollars over 10 years) in an attempt to reduce the national deficit while still “fully funding national security needs.”
Some may not know, but the NEH and NEA provide an abundance of resources to students, teachers, researchers and communities across America.
Every year, thousands of scientists, professors, museums and other groups receive grants from the NEH and NEA that assist in funding innovative and influential research, paying for fieldwork, organizing community events and preserving our collective past. Many of our nation’s best and brightest rely heavily on these and other types of federal funding because (as several of us understand) continued research is nearly impossible without funding.
Federally-funded groups like these also offer financial help if students may otherwise struggle in paying for experience-based research, a critical factor to starting a career in this global economy.
I speak from experience in this matter — my own archaeological research in Moquegua, Peru was funded almost entirely by a similar entity, the National Science Foundation (NSF), in 2015. It would have been impossible for me (and many others like me) to complete this primary research without generous government funding.
Eliminating these programs would not only take away this incredible opportunity from students and halt current research, but it would also threaten the job security of thousands of people in myriad fields who continually rely on these funds for their livelihood.
Why take away these institutions that have worked tirelessly to preserve, analyze and interpret humanity for over 50 years?
In 2016, the NEH and NEA received $148 million each, collectively accounting for 0.006 percent of the annual federal budget, according to The Washington Post. For comparison, the MIT Technology Review estimates that the proposed border wall between the U.S. and Mexico could rack up as much as $38 billion for American taxpayers.
Perhaps as a product of my own biases, I surmise that cuts to other key areas could surely make a bigger dent in the federal budget than the meager 0.006 percent allotted to our already-sparse arts and humanities funding. Additionally, the NEA reports that 40 percent of its activities support underrepresented and low-income communities.
In our continually evolving world, better research is becoming increasingly important (even research with results that are politically distasteful, to say the least).
We should be working to preserve these institutions and the research they fund, whether or not the research agrees with our political motivations or ideologies.
Opinion and personal convictions have a place, but it should not be in scientific research — or in who decides whether to allow funding for that research.
Arts and humanities matter. (Good) science matters. Knowledge matters.
I truly hope we haven’t forgotten that.
Hannah Matulek, a Contributing Writer for the Voice, can be reached for comment at HMatulek17@wooster.edu