Thursday, December 3, 2009

Bonfire of Anonymity: Putting out the Pyrotechnics

David Theo Goldberg

There is much about the crisis facing the university that we can and ought to critique. The humanities have been especially hard hit, in ways many have pointed out on this important website (Robert Meister's excellent analysis of the university budget, aired I believe on these pages, is a very good place to begin). While I am loath to enter into a public argument about the state of the humanities, not least for the university administration to point to as evidence of our infighting, I am the only humanities faculty across the University  that Professor Anonymous (A. for short) explicitly names in the blog piece "Bonfire of the Humanities".  A.  has so muddled the case that I feel obliged to set the record straight regarding the terms of  representation of the University of California Humanities Research Institute.

Professor A writes that "David Theo Goldberg now controls virtually all humanities research dollars". It would indeed be bad if any one person controlled all humanities research funding across the University of California, but this is so far from the truth as to undermine virtually everything else A claims.

Here are the facts. Last academic year,  the Office of Research at UCOP announced that it would be recompeting much of the research funding directed to multi-campus research units (MRUs). This meant that  the original Humanities Initiative with which UCHRI has always been affiliated would have to recompete with all others, including the sciences, for  any research funding going forward. The competition was open to any UC faculty to submit  proposals for ongoing or new funding. Following lengthy discussion, the Humanities Advisory Council (consisting of all Humanities Deans, some systemwide faculty representation, and the Director of UCHRI) agreed to submit a single proposal. That proposal was co-written by the deans, under the terrific leadership of UCSB's David Marshall, with input from the Directors of the campus Humanities Centers, Dante Noto for his systemwide experience representing the humanities,  and myself representing UCHRI. As it became clear that with the halving of staffing at UCOP that  the Humanities Initiative would no longer receive administrative support of any kind from the central office, UCHRI was asked to administer any systemwide funding that might be received. We agreed, even though this meant significantly more administrative responsibility in the face of shrinking budgets.

The new Humanities Initiative proposal, we are told, was the top ranked one in the entire MRPI competition, testament to the multiple inputs, collaborative engagement,  collegiality, and creativity of those putting it together.  It also received the largest award in the entire competition, though 12 percent less than the Initiative requested.  In the face of dramatic cuts across the University, the Initiative funding for the next five years was about equal to what it had been receiving to date. UCHRI has worked closely with the deans and directors of the humanities centers to ensure that individual faculty fellowships  will be increasing in number, that the humanities centers remain funded at close to their traditional levels, and that new systemwide humanities engagements open to all areas of interest are supported.  At the same time UCHRI is receiving modestly less funding than it had in the past, and has contributed some of its own funding to make this all work.

The Office of the President now requires that research funding under the MRPI program go to a single campus. Because UCHRI is now administering the funds, it was thought best that the funding come to Irvine (after all, UCHRI has considerable experience disbursing funds systemwide). The day the funding for 2009-10 was received at UCHRI we transferred 75% of it to campus deans. UCHRI reports to more overseers, arguably, than any other research  organization across the university.  We report to a Board of Governors,  an Advisory Committee, the oversight committee for the new Humanities Initiative (including all the Humanities Deans), the Office of Research at the University of California, Irvine, the Office of Research at UCOP, not to mention grant reporting to the various organizations from which we receive grant funds.  This may be a critique of the over-bureaucratization of the university; but it is also strong testament against the claim that UCHRI or David Theo Goldberg personally "controls virtually all humanities research dollars," as Professor A. claims.

A. further claims that "the humanities center directors could not even begin to get David Theo Goldberg . . . to commit to Humanities rather than to education and science studies (and digital anything)". I have no idea what A. is basing this claim on, but, again, the truth is very different here. Areas covered by UCHRI's support range from classics, medieval and early modern projects, poetry, history and philosophy to postcolonial studies, critical theory, Asian studies, California studies, Jewish studies, Middle Eastern studies, European studies, African studies, ethnic studies, public humanities, political theology and science studies, at the very least. Anyone consulting the UCHRI website ( can readily discern this. Additionally, virtually everything we support in learning, "science studies, and digital humanities" has been on the basis of external funding. But in any case, if the distinction between learning, literacies, networking knowledge, their epistemological and participatory implications, on one hand, and education, on the other, is not germane to the humanities, further woe to us.

The fact that UCHRI has been successful in external grant support has meant that, especially in this budget climate, we are able to direct more of our regular university funding to support work across the humanities. While it is safe to say that UCHRI has never received a proposal from a Professor Anonymous, I'd be more than happy  to talk with A.,in public or private, about the multiple opportunities now available, though that of course would entail coming out from behind the veil of ignorance or resentful bias.  

It can be said now too that there is today, surprisingly, at least as much support across the University for humanities research than there has been in recent years.  The new Humanities Initiative supports graduate student funding, increased individual faculty fellowships, humanities centers on each campus, the systemwide institute, sponsors conferences, seminars, and workshops on every campus, working groups between campuses, multi-campus research groups, and residence research groups. There are few universities anywhere in the world that offer this range and level of support, all told.

While A. chides UCLA for "whor[ing] its Humanities people out to special interests in the donor community to get some support," in the past couple of years they have enjoyed a major Mellon grant which has been used to invigorate humanities research and teaching on campus.  Berkeley also has enjoyed major support from Mellon, and UCHRI played a significant role in helping UC Press to secure a large Mellon grant to support California Studies. You would not know that from Professor A.'s account. A. offers not a word of productive or creative suggestion about how to respond to the crisis in public funding and the implications for the humanities.  Many others have been working collaboratively and effectively to make humanities research available and viable, and it would be good to see Director A. throw support behind these efforts rather than do nothing but make our collective lives seem more miserable.


Anonymous said...

While I am not currently a Director of anything, I did write the original post you here respond to. I chose anonymity (a device which has a long and important history in literature) for a couple of reasons, none of which have to do with making people miserable. I'm glad to see much more detail in your response about the HRI's activities than I have read anywhere in a while, though you enumerate mostly bureaucratic processes. - Two quick notes: My original post does not say you personally are controlling funds - I refer to "it" the HRI as an increasingly centralized control point, and your reply confirms as much, regardless of how it is disbursed. And I'm at a loss about your sentence on education and social sciences - I don't know what you are saying there. I still think the HRI's programs have moved away from fostering a vision of the Humanities that most faculty will recognize their work in. Where for instance (just to pick a recent example almost at random) were the eminent China scholars in the UC (Huters, Pomeranz, Wasserstrom) when the HRI went to Shanghai this year?

At any rate, I gladly accept that I may have taken my critique of the HRI's program too far; it is beside the point. The main spur to write to Chris was to observe (faculty) hiring and (TA) funding patterns in the UC that currently work against the Arts and Humanities, which will be counterproductive. If you could use your influence in the UC system to turn that tide, that would help.

Kevin said...

Prof A. your case would also be stronger if you avoided the pejorative term "servile arts" for everything outside the humanities. If you must use a term ending in "arts" you could use "utile arts", though it would perhaps be best to refer to science, engineering, music, drama, film, and other fields by their proper names.

Chris Newfield said...

from David Goldberg:
While anonymity indeed "has a long and important history" in literature as elsewhere, it is understandable when critical remarks are directed solely at institutions. I would think that when a named individual is the target, decency would be to have the courage of your convictions. In any case, criticism in the acknowledged absence of information--indeed even of any attempt to get at updated information--suggests a prejudicial disposition to begin with.

The distinction you draw between an institution and a person acting as a "control point" of humanities research funding is disingenuous. Your original sentence construction was to make a parenthetical remark about UCHRI in the context of a gratuitous and still unsubstantiated criticism of its Director. In any case, there is a distinction to be drawn between an administrative "control point" for disbursing funds (as I indicated, there are many serial and overlapping control points in this regard) and a singular control point of what research gets funded. As my response emphasized, there are now multiple areas and sources of funding of idea driven projects in the humanities across the system.

As for UCHRI programming "moving away from fostering a vision of the Humanities that most faculty will recognize their work in," my examples indicate that we fund a very wide range of activities across the humanities, qualitative social sciences, and to some degree critical and theoretical research in relation to the arts. The founding mission of UCHRI was to support collaborative, interdisciplinary, multi-campus research across the humanities, and this has remained central to most everything we support in our competitive programming. UCHRI programming remains firmly committed to the focus on the full range of critical literacies emphasized in the UC Commission on Humanities Report in 2002-3. If all this is "besides the point" then why exactly engage in gratuitous invective, whether about UCHRI or efforts in or in behalf of the humanities on some campuses?

Without going through the selection process for the Shanghai program this past summer, we considered a very wide and deep range of potential interlocutors (including those anonymously named). Suffice it to say that this was one in series of self-sustaining summer institutes on critical theory (and in this case design), not in the history of China, as even a cursory glance at the program announcement would attest. So your criticism continues to remain ill-informed, if not gratuitous.

As for "using influence" to effect productive changes or commitments in the UC system, a subtext of my response was to suggest that the most effective interventions in support of the humanities are coalitional, collaborative, and collective, in this case on the part of faculty and administrators, and it is presumptuous to suppose that a number of us are not already variously engaged in these efforts.

Anonymous said...

Without characterizing UCHRI's directions in a monolithic manner, there’s room to question the intellectual content of many of its emphases. The previous reference to the unrecognizability of UCHRI's enterprises isn't specific enough, yet I have my own idea of what it might mean. I'm not interested in a traditional description of the humanities, and I am interested in research that connects with science research, yet I don't think that's what's being promoted at UCHRI. One of UCHRI's publications writes: "According to Goldberg, 'Over the last 10 years humanities research has changed a great deal as humanists explore the use of emerging digital technologies to augment conventional research.' He adds, 'One of UCHRI’s primary goals is to deepen this exchange between the humanities and the sciences.'” Now this quotation conflates "the sciences" with "digital technologies"--otherwise it's a non sequitur--and names linking to this impoverished version of "the sciences" as one of UCHRI's *primary goals.* Later in the same piece, some examples are given: "redlining maps (redlining is the practice of denying loans or insurance to people based on their race and neighborhood) from the 1930s and 1940s are being placed online in a digital collection. And [Goldberg's] new book on race and racism out this year, The Threat of Race, will feature a companion Web site housing multimedia images, videos and a blog." The examples do not indicate how technologies have produced innovative research: they name (a) the digitization of already available materials and (b) accoutrements to Goldberg's own book. On line we can show videos, which is nice, and in print, we can't; but this technical capacity shouldn't be mistaken for an argument. If the digital nature of these materials produces innovative research conclusions, they are not named. I don’t say that there aren't any, but rather that the statements don't show concern for whether there are any or not. Other items on UCHRI's website are similar. They convey satisfaction that funding is being administered by UCHRI, and at the digitality per se of the activities. UCHRI is administering a large grant from the MacArthur Foundation. The competition "seeks designers, inventors, entrepreneurs, researchers, and others to build digital media experiences" for "young people." These media are called "the learning labs of the 21st Century." (When distance learning is being promoted in relation to cutting faculty, the UCHRI should be careful about such statements. Classrooms: the learning labs of the 2oth Century...) Again, I ‘m no digital phobic, but want evidence that the center of UC humanities resaerch thinks it's important to show its sponsors and public what is meant by humanities-science research. Part of the competition, sponsored by Sony, "will provide awards for the creation of new game experiences using PlayStation's popular video game, LittleBigPlanetTM. SCEA will also donate 1000 PlayStation®3 (PS3TM) systems and copies of the LittleBigPlanetTM game to libraries and community-based organizations in low-income communities." From a *research* point of view, this is pitiful. For an interdisciplinary science and humanities center with serious programming, see Barbara Herrnstein Smith's Center for Interdisciplinary Studies in Science and Cultural Theory at Duke University--a center that was particularly active in the 1990's, with much less funding, of course, but with lasting interest for faculty and graduate students.

DavidTheoGoldberg said...


Thank you for the response, and for taking time to review a small proportion of UCHRI material. Your critical comments would be of considerable concern, if they were more than a radically reductionistic caricature of what UCHRI or I stand for, what the Institute funds, or what UCHRI’s mission has long been (for the latter, see ( The Institute is not, nor does it seek to be, solely or even mainly “an interdisciplinary science and humanities center.” UCHRI core funding from the university funds well over 30 projects a year, and only a small proportion of those are at the interface of science and humanities (for this year’s funded projects, see The MacArthur funded competition in digital media and learning that we help to administer, now fully international, in the past two years has funded four UC projects to the tune of close to $1 million (about 20 percent of the funding total awarded competitively). One is a project at UC Berkeley on environmental pollution; another at UCSB is on digital oceans and the food supply; a third is connected to software studies at UCSD; and a fourth is on the histories of urban cultures in metropoles such as Berlin, Los Angeles, Lima, and Rome (for past winners, see

UCHRI is a central part of the newly funded UC Humanities Initiative. Humanities Initiative funding is designed to support a wide array of faculty research programs for UC faculty. Those seeking funding for individual research can apply to the UC President’s Faculty Fellowships in the Humanities (deadline January 15: Humanities Centers on each campus support campus based research activities and those seeking to work with colleagues on their own campuses are encouraged to engage their local Humanities Centers. As a group, the Humanities Center directors are now also administering a funded program for Multi-Campus Research Groups (deadline March 1:

UCHRI separately funds conferences, seminars, workshops on every campus, multi-campus working groups, and in house residence research groups. For the respective programs and deadlines, see Any UC faculty seeking funding for humanities research are strongly encouraged to speak to your local campus representative on UCHRI’s Advisory Committee (which serves as the selection committee for the range of UCHRI competitive programs) as well as to UCHRI staff and to me. You will find us interested and concerned to assist you in identifying funding sources both within UCHRI and beyond in support of humanistic research in the widest sense.

As for my own views, as with past directors, I am careful not to impose my personal research agenda and interests on what UCHRI funds. I do not conflate science studies with digital humanities (save when quotes are radically decontextualized). We are in no way involved in the development of “distance learning” (the MacArthur’s initiative in digital media and learning represents a radical and explicit departure from that model), and so far as I know nothing we have done or funded has led to a shrinking of employment in the humanities (I think the contrary can easily be demonstrated; for one example among nnumerous, we recently hired a marvelous web programmer to supplement our programming needs, a person in the final throes of completing her PhD dissertation—in comparative literature at UCLA). For anyone interested in a more extended sense of my view about contemporary directions in the humanities, see:

(available as free download from MIT Press).

David Theo Goldberg

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