Thursday, November 12, 2009

Humanities Center Fights For Discussion

By Mo Howland

The UCI Humanities Center sponsors unique campus events -- such as talks and author visits -- and offers grants for research in technology, math, science, and politics in culture. Funding for grant research is dispersed to four main groups; these include individual graduate research, faculty individual research, collaborative graduate research, and faculty collaborative research. By promoting creative ways to show others how certain areas of culture work together, the Humanities Center inspires new conversations among students and faculty. This shines a bright light on the future of Humanities Students.

Individual graduate research has given us work such as Bullets, Drugs, and Rock and Roll: Colombian Punk Rock, Heavy Metal Culture in a Time of Revolt and Terrorism, 1979-1994, from history major Giovanni Hortua. Andre Breton’s Wall: Visualizing Memory is a book about the life of artist Andre Breton by Bahar Zaker. Faculty has done research in language, history, and English; some work that has come from this area of funding is A Thousand and One Tragedies: Poetry of the Sahara, analyzing and translating poetry, and Beautiful Circuits: Modernism and the Mediated Life. Collaborative work in both graduate and faculty fields offers conventions to discuss topics such as gender, film, and history.

Grants allocated in collaborative fields pay for travel expenses, conference participation, the purchase of supplies directly related to research, and manuscript publication. Individual grants do not cover publication or presentations at conferences. Collaborative faculty research is provided with a maximum grant of $4,000. Individually faculty can receive $3,000. Graduate students working on collaborative or individual projects receive $1,500.

With the recent budget cuts, however, the Humanities Center is anticipating changes in their program. They have recently received their budget for the 2009-2010 year. Their budget is under scrutiny and may be subject to change. Catherine Liu and Maritess Santiago run the program together and were able to provide answers to questions regarding the future of the Humanities Center.

Q: What does the Humanities center provide for students and staff?

Maritess: We focus on providing research funding for graduate students and faculty. Last year, we started works-in-progress workshops for graduate students and faculty to present and discuss their current research or dissertations. We’ve received many compliments on how these workshops provide valuable feedback for their publications. Our events focus on a variety of topics in Humanities, and are always free and open to students, faculty, staff, and the public.

Catherine: We just sponsored at talk by Gustavo Arellano, the OC Weekly writer and amateur historian of Orange County. We provide programming that brings in people from the community and present a public face for Humanities. Within the School, professors and graduate students present work in progress. We also discuss topical issues in the field.

Maritess: Gustavo Arellano gave a talk on finding and writing about hidden histories, followed by a fantastic discussion with the audience. Since there wasn’t a furniture budget at that time, we had to move 75 chairs before and after the event.

Q: What is your budget for the 2009-2010 year?

Catherine: It was $83,000 continually in previous years. $53,000 came from UCOP and we administered its distribution.

Maritess: We get $50,000 per year from UCOP to distribute as grant awards for Humanities faculty and graduate student research. We also receive funding from the Humanities Dean’s office and the Office of Research in order to host and co-sponsor conferences, colloquia, readings, workshops, and lectures. This sounds like a lot, but our budget and staff are small compared to humanities centers at other universities.

Q: How is the budget circulated throughout the Humanities Center?

Maritess: We have a board of six faculty members who meet to review grant applications.

In the past two years, we have been limiting our grant allotments in anticipation of budget cuts.

Catherine: We are going to run one grant cycle in January—we usually run two—but we’re short on staff and we have the reduction of the budget. We want to support research activities and preserve and nurture new initiatives.

Q: With cuts what are you expecting to see happen within the Humanities Center?

Maritess: We are working with our limited funds to host a few events that engage the community and create open discourse. We’re also hoping establishing a community through social networking and online presence through our design and homegrown marketing efforts. We have always done a lot with a little, and we hope to continue making an impact. We try to make up for limited funding by collaborating with other departments and centers.

Kate Merkel-Hess recently gave a presentation of her book that covers Chinese culture. In her Bio-Statement, from the Department of History website, she says, “My research on modern China is driven by an interest in the relationship between the nation-state and the individual, whether that individual is an elite intellectual educated abroad or a newly-literate Chinese laborer.” Humanities is an important area to explore because it is the basic forum for discussion in all topics. The funding is used to afford the opportunity for research and exploration into cultural awareness. Universal understanding and acceptance of the diversity in cultures is becoming vital in the longevity and survival of the human race. Ignorance breeds fear and we can no longer hold onto that fear.

Recently, Franklin B. Wilderson presented his novel, Incognegro, to an audience of graduate students and faculty that crowded HIB 143 in order to hear him speak. His book is about apartheid Africa and the ANC’s threat to national security. He compared it to the civil rights movement in the United States during the sixties. During the speech he commented on the reasoning behind his book and the his feelings towards it’s importance in conveying the condition of his subject topic. He spoke on the difficulties of writing and how the more research that one could get the easier it will be for people to convey important messages to the public. He also read excerpts from his book, showing the ways the civil rights movement in America and apartheid compared to each other.

Unfortunately with the economy and the subsequent budget cuts the Humanities Center is being forced to scale back it’s work in cultural awareness. The funding from UC is being focused on occupational degrees like, Business and the Sciences. According to the UC budget report for the 2009-2010 year research funds will be focused in areas such as agricultural research, support research on AIDS, California Institutes of Science and Innovation, organized research, and multi-campus research programs.

The University of California has set aside $2.5 million for the Humanities Initiative, a statewide system that allocates funding to each UC center dedicated to research in the Humanities. The 2009-2010 Budget for Current Operations lists the budget for each of the special programs for schools. This is only half of what UC Medical Centers have received fore the coming year. The $5 million is allocated between five different centers: Davis, Irvine, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and San Diego. The money from the Humanities Initiative is allocated between ten different programs, allowing each program only $250,000. Other funding comes directly from the school or from carry-over that the center collects.

The 2009-2010 Budget for Current Operation publication states, “UC's museums, performing arts venues, and nationally ranked arts and humanities instruction programs and organized research programs are key components in making California a leader in the arts and culture industries.” (The document is available to the public at

The overall breakdown in budget focuses on Economics and Business, Agriculture, Medicine, and lists a last category for “Other Research Areas” which includes, Architecture, Biological Engineering, Social Sciences, Humanities, and Digital Arts. The document then says, “In the humanities, research at the University of California has flourished across the system, placing many programs at the top of the National Research Council rankings.” If this is in fact true the actions of the Board of Regents do not reflect the importance placed on humanities.

There is passion behind the cause. Catherine Liu tells me, “We need to fight this. The better-educated students are, the better they are able to make decisions and the better they are able to participate in a democracy. Students are curious, passionate, and generally engaged in the work of Humanities. That is a bright spot to me.” This can be applied to all areas of the school. The Humanities Center encourages discussion between all fields. They are about the merging and questioning of culture and how it functions. With staff being cut, the program is facing hard times.

Maritess says, “It’s disheartening to see some of the best staff members leave, and this has affected the ones who remain. At this point I’m just grateful to still be hanging on, but the budget situation makes it impossible to plan into the future.”

For more in formation on the UC Humanities Initiative, visit:

For more information about the Humanities Center visit:

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