Petition to Congress to Save the National Endowment for the Humanities

April 1, 2017

“The arts and humanities belong to all the people of the United States.”

These words introduce the Congressional Act that established the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) in 1965. Congress recognized that scholarship in the humanities emerges from private initiatives, but insisted that public investment in education, research, and culture serves the common good in ways that strengthen American democracy. A half century later, the NEH has succeeded in making ideas and culture more accessible in all 50 states by supporting museums, libraries, historical societies, schools, online educational resources and other initiatives that contribute to the richness of American life.

Now this wonderful success story—a story of partnership with local humanities councils—is in jeopardy. President Trump has proposed cutting the entire budget of the NEH, not shrinking it but eliminating it altogether. In 1965, American lawmakers understood that democracy requires wisdom and vision, and they created the NEH as a way to support those qualities in American life.  The President does not believe we can afford that kind of investment. Scholars of the humanities, along with scientists and social scientists, at the University of Pennsylvania, vehemently oppose the President’s proposal because we know the tremendous losses to scholarship and to American culture that will occur if Congress agrees to end the NEH.

The survival of the NEH is not a partisan issue. The NEH has drawn support from both Democrats and Republicans who recognize this agency as vital to supporting economic development, strengthening communities and broadening the horizons of the underprivileged. The benefits are real, and they are widespread. NEH-funded programs have helped to rehabilitate prisoners by giving them opportunities to learn and be creative; supported rural communities seeking to teach their young people about their history; and promoted responsible citizenship by fostering critical thought and conversation across different sectors of American society. Annual spending for the NEH represents a tiny fraction of the federal budget, barely more per capita than a single postage stamp. Leaders from both parties have recognized this modest expense as a worthy investment in the vitality of American culture and society.

In establishing the NEH, Congress recognized what a democracy needs to flourish—a nation willing to cultivate its inquisitive spirit and creativity; open to diversity and new ideas; and committed to passing its traditions and memories on to the next generation. In 1965, America was fighting a war and confronting formidable social problems, yet its leaders found the will and the resources to support the humanities and the arts. That is the kind of leadership we need today. We, the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania,

This petition was signed by 192 faculty.