The Campus Funders Who Are Fretting About the Fate of Humanities Ph.D. Students

Loyal IP readers know that we normally don't cover grants provided by state or federal government agencies. And while we won't get too deep into the National Endowment for the Humanities' (NEH) recent $350,000 grant to Duke University, we'd nonetheless like to bring it to your attention since the underlying strategy of the grant is whole-heartedly endorsed by the biggest player in the liberal arts space, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Before we look at the Duke grant, let's first contextualize it. 

The Chronicle for Higher Education published a piece entitled Grants Seek to Foster a Culture Change in Humanities Graduate Education. "With help from the National Endowment for the Humanities and other groups," it explains, "some colleges are experimenting with ideas for reorienting the humanities Ph.D. to today’s job market. 

The endowment recently handed out nearly $1.7 million in grants to 28 colleges to help them "rethink how they prepare doctoral students for career paths outside higher education." Why? For some obvious reasons, actually:

"If graduate programs wish to make a case for the continuation of graduate education in the humanities," says William D. Adams, the endowment's chairman, "they're going to have to think about the professional futures of their students in entirely different ways. The future we’re accustomed to training them for is disappearing."

Yup, disappearing, is what Adams said.

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, of course, whole-heartedly agrees. As we noted in recent post summarizing its six goals for the liberal arts space, Mellon has been particularly active in charting bold new career paths for doctoral students. Examples include a $400,000 grant to the University of California, Davis' Humanities Institute to launch a new program that will support humanities graduate students in leading community-based research projects and its ongoing support for "humanities labs." Meanwhile, with Mellon support, the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) is helping Ph.D.s find opportunities in public service.

All of which brings us back to the NEH's gift to Duke. The three-year grant will support skills training relevant for both academic and non-academic career paths, a wide array of new internship opportunities, and curricular innovations that incorporate collaborative research, computational humanities/media, and engagement with policy analysis for for doctoral students in the humanities.

The grant ultimately acknowledges that most doctoral students won't end up in academia. Indeed, a growing number of Duke graduate students expressed interest in expanding their training to incorporate such arenas as social entrepreneurship, policy analysis, and beyond. "We want to prepare our doctoral students to make a difference, whether within academia, in NGOs, in government agencies or the private sector," said Paula D. McClain, the dean of Duke’s Graduate School.