The high price of irresponsibility:
UNC-Chapel Hill spokeswoman Kate Luck confirmed late Thursday that the school "is in conversations with the Mellon Foundation, one of our most valued external partners, about their concerns related to the UNC System’s legal settlement regarding the Confederate Monument.”
The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation is one of the largest charitable foundations in the world and a key funder of academic research. According to its publicly available database, it awarded UNC-Chapel Hill seven Mellon grants over the last three years, totaling more than $7 million.
It's likely Republicans won't be that concerned over this, because the bulk of the Mellon grants are targeted to the Humanities, as opposed to medical research. But as a former history major myself, I have been following the UNC Humanities for several years now, and this division has contributed greatly to both the culture of NC via the arts, and a much better understanding of the social fabric holding us together. The last thing we need to do is undermine projects like this:
Our premise is simple: undergraduates in the humanities and qualitative social sciences have good reasons for confidence about the personal meaning and social value of their educations.
In practice, however, the premise is highly contentious. That’s because “the humanities” has become freighted with under-examined ideas about the value and purpose of an undergraduate degree in general, misconceptions about the economic outcomes of studying the humanities at the undergraduate level in particular, and unreconciled, and perhaps irreconcilable, competing conceptions of usefulness and a good life. These currents are also partly animated by some of the most pronounced partisan, cultural, and class divisions in contemporary American life.
It’s no wonder that, as one of the members of our new class of fellows reminded me at our first meeting, the decision of a major is one the first big decisions that she had undertaken on her own; and it is a heavy one.
The Humanities Futures Undergraduate Fellowship Initiative is an intervention in the parameters of that decision. It aims to make undergraduate scholars the agents of changing the conversation, rather than the conversation’s object. The ten fellows selected in the inaugural class—Ivana Devine, Brett Harris, Jiawei Huang, Klaus Mayr, Nate Polo, Elizabeth Russler, Sophia Houghton, Sophia Hutchens, Shawna Sheperd, and Sam Zahn—will show us whether this experiment is viable and scaleable. These fellows are not just smart; they are excellent communicators, adept moral reasoners, and they are not just willing and able but eager to work at the broad intersection of theory, knowledge, and social practice.
It might be a "stretch" to say the following, but I'm going to say it anyway: We might be able to save lives with research into the hard sciences, but we cannot save the character of our democracy that way. It's the soft sciences in the Humanities that can do that, if we are prepared to explore them. And putting undergrads in the driver's seat is a fantastic way to encourage other students (even future doctors and lawyers) to also explore those possibilities.