In Support of Arts and Humanities

Below is an open letter of support from 33 faculty members in the Department of English at Kansas State University. For more information about the local budget situation described in this letter, visit university communications about the Budget Modernization Project, K-State 2025 and its refresh, and a recent announcement about next year’s funding from the State of Kansas.  For more information about the role of the Arts and Humanities in the current cultural moment, visit a recent article at Inside Higher Ed which includes statements from representatives of the Teagle Foundation and the AAC&U.

February 2, 2021

Dear President Myers, Provost Taber, Interim Vice President Beth Montelone, and Dean Chakrabarti,

At a time when our nation is facing an existential crisis with deep divisions over race, politics, public discourse, and public health, we write to you as scholars in the Department of English to remind the administration of the essential value of the arts and humanities.

We acknowledge that we are in the midst of a precarious economic situation and recognize faculty commitment to the university’s success as we endure furloughs, adapt to new teaching modalities, and accept reduced support for travel and research. As discussions about the budget and the future of the university continue, we ask the administration to make a strong commitment to the arts and humanities. When institutional needs and mission are measured primarily in monetary terms, a land-grand institution has ceased to fulfill its foundational purpose.

Like our colleagues in Biology, we write to express concern about recent trends in declining support for research and quality instruction and the negative impact of those cuts on the culture at Kansas State University, particularly in the College of Arts and Sciences. We are deeply concerned about decision-making that primarily focuses on short-term financial and enrollment-driven problems without sufficient consideration for long-term impacts on research and instruction. In addition, we notice a dangerous trend that ignores work in the disciplines that help us think creatively and critically, reason, and ask questions about the pressing issues of our moment.

A comprehensive university like Kansas State does far more than educate young people and nontraditional students; a fundamental mission is the creation and dissemination of new knowledge through research, scholarly and creative activity, and discovery. Indeed, the RSCAD acronym was coined during K-State’s initial development of the 2025 plan to recognize the myriad ways that new knowledge is generated. Faculty in the English Department contribute to the university’s national and international profile with RSCAD ranging from archival work informing the definitive study of American WWI poetry and the recentering of Native American languages and cultures in American Literature to award-winning poetry, nonfiction, and fiction.

We observe with alarm that faculty workloads are locally renegotiated to prioritize teaching at the expense of original research. Such metrics betray the university’s stewardship of arts and humanities. Budget conversations that prioritize credit hour production alone diminish our department’s ability to contribute to the university’s research status. These budget decisions do not reward faculty for creating new knowledge. Instead, they diminish our ability to help students grapple with the important issues of our time.

We support the list of recommendations articulated in the letter from Biology, and we would like to discuss them further with you and other members of central administration. In particular we call for dialogue about the following:

  1. The upper administration must initiate as soon as possible the planned three-year review of the modified RCM budget model to recognize and value the fundamental research mission of the university, and to incorporate concrete metrics beyond student credit hour production to capture the range of RSCAD productivity. Since far less grant funding is available in the humanities, such metrics cannot rely exclusively on extramural funding.
  2. There should be clear initiatives from central administration to identify cost-saving redundancies across colleges and encourage across-college collaboration, rather than pitting colleges against each other.
  3. The upper administration should provide transparent accounting of all cost center expenses (e.g., the calculations for the $12,500 cost per person).
  4. Central administration and college-level administrators should make clear where they are cutting their own budgets and others at all levels, so the sacrifices required from departmental faculty and staff can be put in context.
  5. The College of Arts and Sciences response to budget cuts should not disproportionately harm RSCAD, which is both a revenue and intellectual driver for the college.

We also add the following recommendations, specific to research and creative work in the arts and humanities:

  1. We would like our administration to acknowledge that the arts and humanities contribute to the university’s shared mission for “developing human potential, expanding knowledge, enriching cultural expression.” Scholarship in the arts and humanities is foundational for promoting and understanding our cultural and religious diversity and for cultivating complex, fair, creative dialogue and global citizenship.
  2. Current inequalities of furloughs and voluntary salary reductions across individual colleges demonstrate a disregard for the liberal arts. We ask that the university commit to funding the high-impact learning experiences that take place in small humanities classes taught by experts actively engaging in research. Humanities courses teach our students how to think through issues, critically evaluate evidence, and communicate effectively. They also teach our students about the human condition and enhance empathy for those different from ourselves.
  3. The University Foundation has had record-breaking success in fundraising campaigns while, on campus, deep budget cuts continue to harm departments’ ability to meet our mission. We ask that administration call for renewed or innovative ways for the Foundation to support scholarship in the humanities, whether through endowed chair positions or other means.

Five years ago, we had aspirations to become a top-ranked research institution. The current budget model does not simply modify our 2025 goals—it undercuts them, threatening our status as an R-1 institution and initiating fundamental changes that will characterize the nature of the institution for years to come.

Sincerely yours,

Cydney Alexis, Associate Professor

Traci Brimhall, Associate Professor

Tim Dayton, Professor

Steffi Dippold, Associate Professor

Elizabeth Dodd, University Distinguished Professor

Carol Franko, Associate Professor

Roger Friedmann, Instructor

Anna Goins, Instructor

Christina Hauck, Associate Professor

Donald Hedrick, Professor

Daniel A. Hoyt, Professor

Michele Janette, Professor

Katherine Karlin, Associate Professor

A. Abby Knoblauch, Associate Professor

Mary Kohn, Associate Professor

Cameron Leader-Picone, Associate Professor

Anne Longmuir, Associate Professor

James L. Machor, Professor

Anuja Madan, Assistant Professor

Phillip Marzluf, Professor

Wendy Matlock, Associate Professor

Deborah Murray, Instructor

Philip Nel, University Distinguished Professor

Kara Northway, Associate Professor

Ania Payne, Instructor

Anne Phillips, Professor

Kimball Smith, Associate Professor

Danielle Tarner, Instructor

Lisa Tatonetti, Professor

Shirley F. Tung, Assistant Professor

Karin E. Westman, Department Head and Associate Professor

Naomi Wood, Professor

Han Yu, Professor

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