I finally submitted my little article on the humanities in the age of austerity that uses the University of North Dakota as a case study. It will appear in a special section in North Dakota Quarterly volume 85.
Many, many people contributed to this article not the least of whom were students in a graduate seminar on historiography who produced a book length response to the de-funding of UND’s graduate program in history and then, some of the same students worked with me to create a class on the UND budget. The undergraduates in that class sharpened my thinking about how budgets worked and how priorities were established. These classroom experiences pushed me to confront a wider range of political perspectives, to read more deeply, and to listen to various participants in high level decision making.
At the same time I was doing this I had the pleasure to serve on UND’s Senate Budget Committee, the Graduate Committee, and to attend various ad hoc gatherings associated with the development of a new strategic plan on campus and various other new initiatives. Whatever modest contribution I made to these committees, I was able to benefit by learning a tremendous amount about administrative attitudes, the views from my colleagues in other departments and programs, and the process of priority setting. While this has been a rather difficult time across campus with people losing their jobs, programs being terminated, and a general sense of anxiety and insecurity, it has also been a particularly intriguing one. Times of instability, it would seem, pushed people to put their cards on the table, to visibly operate the levers of power, and to make statements and take actions that they could otherwise hide behind various gradualist strategies and the slow grind of consensus.
My colleagues on campus and on social media pushed back on various parts of this piece and demanded that I clarify or revise my thinking. In some cases, I did. In other cases, I left the ambiguity as a more honest expression of my thoughts than anything else. Finally, in some cases, I just disagreed or forgot to make changes.
It’s pretty scary to publish something on the humanities and austerity in part because I’ve been thinking about this for a long enough that I no longer can see the issue clearly and, in part, because people much smarter than I am are on both sides of this debate. If the article does anything, I hope it stimulates some more conversation about the impact, goals, and motives of various austerity measures in higher education.