People of Minnesota should support Humanities funding

by Elmer L. Andersen
ECM Publisher Emeritus

This is not the first time that our state has been challenged to face difficult choices or to weather an economic downturn, nor will it be the last. As we consider the choices before us, we would do well to draw upon the lessons of our own history.

Faced with similar problems in the early 1990s, for example, it was, to a great extent, Minnesota's well-educated, highly productive workforce that enabled us to regain our footing and to move forward.

Our state's longstanding tradition of strong public schools, excellence in higher education, and outstanding programs in the arts and humanities served us well. As a people, we understood what we wanted Minnesota to be once better times returned, and we worked together to bring those better times to be.

Our current conversation about priorities, values and the role of government must answer anew the question of what we want Minnesota to be once better times return.

As we weigh proposed reductions in funding for higher education and for organizations like the Minnesota Humanities Commission, we must do so with an eye toward our state's future. We must continue to support those institutions that will strengthen our schools, equip our teachers, educate our state's workforce for tomorrow and provide a quality of life that we as citizens demand.

As we are making choices that will affect Minnesota's tomorrow, we must reflect upon the lessons of history, the wisdom of literature, and the instruction of philosophy. That is to say, we must turn to the humanities.

History, literature, ethics, philosophy — just a few of those areas of learning that constitute the humanities — help us to understand who we are and what it means to be human, to be a citizen.

For more than 30 years, Minnesotans have looked to the Minnesota Humanities Commission for leadership, programs and resources that advance the study of the humanities — the very foundations of our democracy, government and civil life.

Our Humanities Commission advances reading and literacy efforts throughout our state. It provides support for excellence in teaching and learning in Minnesota's schools and colleges. Minnesota Humanities makes it possible for teenagers, busy professionals, and older adults to study enduring ideas, to analyze critical issues and to contribute to the well-being of the communities in which they live.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty's proposed budget eliminates all state funding for the Minnesota Humanities Commission. It is part of a network of state Humanities Commissions headed by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Minnesota is one of the stronger units accomplishing great good for a modest investment. The agency was already cut $240,000 of about $1 million that the state had been providing. Corporate and foundation grants total about $1 million. Federal contribution is $600,000 and income from services and private contributions total another $400,000.

By eliminating total state funding, the governor, in effect, declares the agency not worthy of existence. The Legislature should show greater appreciation of an agency that is at the center of Minnesota cultural and quality of life efforts. That it takes some reduction as part of the total problem is to be expected, but to eliminate all state funding is a judgment the people of the state should resent and insist upon changing.