An Evening of Conversation with Jon Peede NEH Chairman

An Evening of Conversation with Jon Peede NEH Chairman


ladies and gentlemen thank you so much
for coming I think you will find this to be a very interesting night and I hope
you’ll just keep chatting about it and passing on what you hear for the
people who seem not to know how to plan their evenings well and who didn’t join
us tonight but we’re so proud to have the people who did plan their evenings
well I’m patty Limerick from the Center of the American West I want to tell
everyone what you may already know that Ken Burns is going to be here on October
2nd at 7 p.m. in Macky and tickets are on sale and you can get them on the
Macky website and it will be I think a really interesting evening obviously the
man has made more films than we could possibly talk about but that’s why I
will talk mostly about his soul I think that’s what we’ll do is well well get it
he doesn’t have really shared that with him yet but so but I I know we’ve
already been back and forth a bit on what we’re gonna talk about it’ll be an
interview and the conclusion of the evening will be giving him our Stegner
Award for representing the values of the American West and that is going to be a
very moving must be so moving you’ll want to bring your handkerchiefs for
that because it will be in some weird way I think it actually is going to be
genuinely a meaningful activity for us all not a weird way because it’s an
important award what am I saying I’m saying don’t bring your handkerchiefs
but it will be of illuminating and intense evening so I’m gonna start us
off tonight by making a statement I am a member of the National Council on the
humanities the governing board of the NEH National Endowment for the Humanities and
I am going to speak for a couple of minutes here not as a council member
what I will say next is just me Patty Limerick citizen so on in early November
of 2016 there was an election and the results of that were not what the
pundits were expecting oddly enough I spoke like the day after that I was at a
speaking at a conference of the American Association of political consultants
which was all of the panels were people who had
screwed up on their polls it was just I’ve never seen a more repentant and and
pathetic group of panelists because they were all saying we thought we had this
so any case I do care about the humanities whether I’m a council member
or a citizen and I did worry about what would happen to the National Endowment
for the Humanities just as a citizen then I got to know John Peede who was
appointed as the acting chairman of the of the National Endowment for the Humanities
and then was confirmed by the Senate in April and in the intervening period the
President’s budget called for the closing of the National Endowment for
the Humanities which did not help my spirits then getting to know John Peede
I met a person who characterized himself as a person who builds things and
doesn’t end or close things that seem good Oh
then I saw I was fortunate to get to know aspects of his story personal story
he grew up in a little town in Mississippi that had a utterly
disproportionate number of talented writers in it so he was oh and I think I
think I can say this that one of the talented writers or a person who had
extraordinary material was the town doctor who knew everything about the
town and who kept very elaborate records and had left those records when he died
too young and that was John’s father so going through his father’s records was a
very interesting chance to see the power of the humanities and thinking about the
the depths and range of human experience so just a number of things started
adding up that made me more cheerful and I do keep running into people who look
at me in a aurash manner and say well the Endowment for the
Humanities is gonna be closed it’s gonna be shut down and I think there’s plenty
of things to worry about and that doesn’t happen to be one so I am
particularly pleased with that background to say that this has been a
wonderful opportunity to get to know a very interesting person a very engaged
and committed participant in the humanities and and his background is
just a wonderful set of a chain of events that lead him to his current
position as chair of endowment he thought he would be a scientist or
doctor cuz that was certainly in his background and then if I’m gonna hope I
can quote this right let me get a right that he oh he went to college
at Vanderbilt and he took many science he took many classes and different
science disciplines and he was defeated by all of those disciplines and I don’t
think there’s any word better than defeated yes I think it is important
those of you who want to tell inspirational tales to young people you
should know that not doing so well on his route to medical school in fact
aborting the whole trip there of the journey to medical school he is now a
great advocate for and supporter of the Medical Humanities the whole project to
introduce the narrative arts to doctors as a form of not a side matter but a
really core way of getting to patients so so who knows those chemistry organic
chemistry paid off and some curious longer well maybe not okay so I would
let that go but oh and then he he went on to get a masters degree in southern
cultural studies at the University of Mississippi where an old friend of mine
Bill Ferris was the person who headed that program and recruited him into it
so he got his master’s degree there and then a strange thing happened that
before he could go on to a PhD he got a job which that’s not common where things
have happened in the humanities so he was an editor at Mercer University
Press and he had a great range of topics and I think the fact that he was an
editor will come back in terms of his stance towards the humanities today so
he might actually there’s nothing more ridiculous than when I started to tell
somebody’s story and they’re sitting right here and they could just be
telling the story so but it is a great story and I’d be happy to get together
with you in the weeks ahead and tell you the story again if you’d like to hear
because it is a really good one and it’s a lot of it is about friendship and
relationships as the way to end up position to do the right thing for your
nation so I am really pleased to have John Peede here with me we thought about
the sequence of topics we bring up and we decided we would go into the part
that might be on the minds of many members of the audience and might be
well I think I wrote when I sent him the questions I think question eight begins
with the most this is the most sensitive of our topics the most scent of
sensitive and asks for especially careful review so we’re going in out so
this is pretty interesting that the president declared his intention to
close the neh and here we are with John PD as our Chairman we ended up with
three million dollars more for the National Endowment for the Humanities
than in the last year of the Obama administration and that so that is a
must be a very interesting story on how you were brought into an office to close
an agency and instead the agency ended up with more money so we would like you
to come close the Center of the American West and then see if you could get us I
I hope the the 140 characters allows somebody to tweet more than I hope you
come to close the center well thanks well things she said repeatedly
since she’s on our National Council that she’s not able to apply for grants and
yet throughout the day she said nice things about me so I do fear there is a
grant from the the center somewhere at the endowment that I’m unaware of but
but Patty and when we say Patty’s on our National Council so the NEH is a federal
agency we were I’ll come back to that but we were established by LBJ and were
part of the Great Society Legislation and the ethos of the NEA and the NEH
these sister agencies comes through that and one part of the oversight is that
each president will recommend National Council members so you have to be
nominated by the president he’s been a bit of time with your friends of the FBI
and then you go before the Senate for a vote and so in their six-year terms and
you serve until replace so various people sometimes resign at the end of
theirs or spouse moves to another nation and they need to resign our health
intervenes so we have 26 potential members we have three people that are
appointed by President Bush we have 18 for President Obama we have five in
these seats and so you would say well of course President Bush’s term was not but
in the last six years those individuals have served 10 years and I could tell
you if you were in a room and Patty was there and some of the bush appointees
there and and some of our new appointees of agency leadership you wouldn’t
identify them what you would see is a room of people who are committed in
their personal lives and their professional lives to the arts and
humanities who believed that a culture centered in learning as a culture they
want to be a part of we want to foster we learned about our lives too so so
that’s the culture of the agency so I have had the honor and the pleasure of I
was appointed by President Bush at the National Endowment for the Arts and I
was there and I was retained by the Obama administration to oversee the
funding of literature for the country and then I’m for five years at the
University Virginia and then I was asked by the Trump administration to come on
as as we call beachhead teams I was the first appointing in and for about
gosh half a year the only appointee in the agency and we did what we do we
talked about how do we go forward what do we want to find was it was the vision
for the agency and so while I don’t of course ever go into my conversations
with the White House I could say in broad strokes that when I was when I
came on the agency in April of 2017 the the skinny budget is is called that
means here’s what we intend to do there’s not a whole lot of language but
it but it did name a budget of some 40-odd million dollars and that would be
the orderly closure of the agency and to be clear it was identified as not being
a federal priority administration from that day to this day I’ve never spoken
with anybody in the White House it was derogatory about the arts or humanities
dismissive it is not the cultural wars It started in 2003 I understand what the
Cold War’s are that’s not what’s going on here it’s not a domestic spending
priority to the administration is credit because yes I mean you know my Google
you can google me they had a resume and and what I do for better for worse and
struggling people who know better but I build cultural assets and I edit books I
published books you know I run projects usually in literature always around the
issue of storytelling whatever medium that might be it might be filmmaking it
might be a book or magazine but it’s always about telling stories which
you’re gonna be a Mississippian that’s kind of you know that’s the home
occupation and and to the credit to the credit the perspective of the White
House is you will every chairman submits the White House’s budget that’s never
changed as LBJ that’s how it works and every chairman of reacting chairmen
submits the White House budget you don’t change a comma you submitted to Congress
and I knew I would be doing so but what they said if it’s the will of Congress
that is closed and that is the will and I will oversee that in the most
reasonable way I can deter you know I have 140 people report to me at work
every morning and it’s going to be a very personal and difficult experience
but we would do that if that’s not the will of Congress then the White House
won its money to run the agency that understood
the subject was informed about the subject and I asserted that I was such a
person in the room and and over time I moved from the acting chairmanship into
a Senate confirmation and I was I was honored to be unanimously
confirmed by the US Senate and there has not been a whole lot of that of late and
I sometimes joke that that’s why you pick a middle child such as me
but but I really think well that yes I mean that that week
Dr. Jackson went up as the VA nominee Pompeyo went up for State Department I
went oh well yeah I don’t have the stats of that but but I go those are of us a
certain age can laugh cuz we know about what we mean about middle children be a
peacemakers but but that makes the assumption you have at least three
children and statistically that’s I don’t think that would resonate with the
freshman class anywhere but so so basically I think everything is side
it’s the idea that the arts endowment the humanities endowment did you and you
were going to speak of following the will of Congress and that was going to
get to you to the phrase that I have found so beautiful every time you use it
okay there’s a phrase I once you use the name pretty sure one of the tools gonna
have a tattoo of it by the end of this trip and I have a pinions on which one I
was like it not to be but so so I will say that so we submitted our budget and
that goes into the house interior subcommittee the interior subcommittees
important committee of course of this stay because they deal with the energy
policy they deal with federal lands land rights grazing rights a lot of different
matters they also deal with the cultural agencies
and so it’s a interesting agency this state has always been well represented
on that on the House and the Senate on that committee and so once the White
House submits a budget as an agency chair I can provide the Senate in the
house with technical assistance that’s what the law says technical assistance
if if requested of me and and one thing I’ve been very clear as acting chairman
or chairman I said I want to go the healing I want to talk in a very
concrete way about how we’re using tax dollars and we think about division in
Washington but I can tell you you know my agency the White House is here and I
have 535 members for you know 435 on the house and 100 in the Senate and
all of them want to hear about the stewardship of tax dollars there’s no
political party on that particular topic and and so I talk about the kind of
things we’re doing here I talked about two hundred fifty thousand dollars for
the online Colorado encyclopedia I talked about 40 percent of our grant
dollars state humanities partners so in Colorado most recently for the state
Humanities Council that was about seven hundred seventy five thousand dollars
and I’ll be with Maggie and her team tomorrow at a high school at 8:30 in the
morning and we have a humanities council member here if you want to wave a hand
and I don’t know if there other board members here and by the end of the week
I’ll be at the Air Force Academy talking about the humanities and more time
riding in it and topics such assistance so Congress looking at how we serve the
states and hearing from its constituents did not the technical assistance they
wanted from me was not talked to me about this forty million dollar budget
it was talked to me about a hundred and forty-seven million dollar budget on a
forty nine million dollar budget so when the omnibus bill passed Congress last
year and the President signed it into law last year was our biggest budget in
five years when the President signed the next omnibus bill in the spring of this
year is our biggest budget in six years and now the House and Senate interior
subcommittees have 2.1 million dollar increase and if that
comes to pass of course they’ll be the largest in seven years
five million before that or five-and-a-half million before that
you’re back to Ronald Reagan before you had a higher number President Obama in
his second year I had 162 million and that was the largest since Reagan and so
so that’s where we are and so I understand if somebody fills that that
there’s I understand about the existential crisis understand that that
they are focused on the on the budgets the middle and again I am the individual
that submits that budget to be quite clear but but but at no point am I said
I’m instructed to say don’t talk about how using the hundred fifty three
million it’s just the opposite as a member of the ministration I’m saying
here’s what we’re doing with these monies you know in your state or or or
for American history and civics and I think that one of the things is I go
around the country I’ve been to 22 states since May of last year and my
fourth state in the last seven days I think it is as whether it’s in
Mississippi whether it’s in Wyoming Montana over the weekend or here on this
particular trip is is people have remarkable stories to tell they have a
mockable history they have the macro history of America and they feel like
their story I think in the south and the west we felt like our story isn’t always
included or it’s told in a way we would not tell it it is told by it Outsiders
and we don’t want to whitewash our history we don’t want to obscure our
history we would want to play I think a bigger role in telling our history and
so I’m spending a lot of time just listening you know what are we what are
we doing well what can we do better and and what I love is this council that has
served some of them for a decade that y’all are excited about this is as I am
and and I’m gonna stop there I’m in Mississippi and so once I start a roll I
either you know pass a for a collection or something so well
we’ll stop there and the idea is that we’ll do this a bit and then it’ll be
open up the questions for those I’m gonna go to the concern about the
possibility of funding projects that become controversial and that are grist
for the mill of people who would like to oppose funding for the Arts in the
humanities and I’m going to say this is I’m not sure this question appeared on
the list but I’m going to say that I think I after my years with the Center of the
American West am maybe more eager than you are to make sure that we don’t
expose a flank by funding a project that is not well thought out that has a
foregone conclusion that has an ex to grind that is not a real inquiry but is
I I so personally as a council member do not want to be the one who brought a
punishing and unfortunate reaction that might interrupt that growth in the
budget so when we are talking about this I am very alert to that possibility that
we could and I I don’t I can’t remember the timing exactly but I thought you but
you were at the National Endowment for the Arts and there were episodes where
funded projects were very controversial and created quite an uproar over
National Endowment for the Arts funding so could you talk about that whole I
don’t know if it’s a balance beam or tightrope or whatever but just a lot
rests on not pulling either of those agencies into an unproductive fray and
that concerns me a lot so I’m going to put postulate that I might be more
attuned and anxious about that than you are no I appreciate that the most controversial thing we can do
is something I will not do is fund mediocrity I mean that I mean the
absolute thing is the natural ally the humanities this idea that that we want
to we want to be the equivalent of our federal sister agencies the way NASA has
a aspirational aspect the way other my friends in DoD who deal with wound care
so my my thing is worrying about operating from a position of fear you
know I could you can sit in and at the agency I’ll fly back at midnight and I’m
gonna go to a black-tie thing at the kinnies here the whole chairmanship can
be black-tie events and that’s great and I need to be in the room so those
decision-makers but but why would you why you know why would you squander you
know the opportunities so so for me I go back to some bedrock ideas the same ones
that are reinforced by council members is is this idea of intellectual rigor
and all things and so if we want to use the word of what you’re describing this
hypothetical proposal that it edges so close to advocacy we worry about that
and my thing is at a certain point for what we do the way we define our
guidelines if you’re engaged in advocacy on a particular political perspective
then then you have stepped away from I think intellectual rigor and and you are
instead engaged in another activity a perfectly fine activity but not one we
federally fund and certainly not to this agency and so and I think scholars in
particular are really in a difficult time here because if you’re a scholar
and you have a topic and it’s about if it’s set in the nineteenth century
before the Civil War and you want to talk about that topic and any number of
polarizing things between political parties and you’re submitting it to
commercial publishing house they want that epilogue or the discription
the prologue to talk about in the context of today’s political parties to
try to make something and that’s not the root of your work but you’re sitting it
in your your colleagues are saying that’s you know that might be something
you want to do your editor at major your publishing house is saying that’s what
you want to do that may be perfectly fine and when you finally publish a book
in five years you may have gotten rid of all that stuff it will not be accurate
but you send it in to us and we think oh my goodness is this going to be you know
a partisan uneven a work of advocacy so I think sometimes as a writer by the
time you’re chasing the latest trend and your book actually gets at it and comes
out as marketed that trend is gone so at the agency we don’t invest in presentism
in other words we’re trying to take the historical perspective I can tell
you when I was at the National Endowment for the Arts I you know I love that
position it was a great place for me and and a couple of things um one about this
idea of not living in fear constant Crouch and sometimes you’re going to
make decisions and you just have to take the heat at the moment so the National
Endowment for the Arts funded the design competition of the Vietnam War Memorial
that right there you would say citizens I bet all of us is that’s money I’ll
believe in it’s well spent and I believe in that agency in part because
of that I can tell you in the Washington Post it was called a black gash and the
Earth it was a it was considered offensive act there was representational
art put at the end a rather beautiful sculptor of course is still there to
offset this idea and we were on the right side of history
and it sometimes it’s hard to understand if he will be on the right side of
history and not on these kind of things but you you really have to be willing to
go forward and you have to be willing and I’ll candidate er to be subjected to
a bit of personal demonization and that’s much worse in the moment of
social media and that’s just a reality of serving in this manner but
presetism if it’s if it’s drawing relevance of a three man you study that
is so tied to a particular moment that it’s going to be as dated as yesterday’s
newspaper I can see that but you seem to be very unrelenting and wanting to push
the case for Americans to look at their heritage in its full cultural diversity
and we if council members thought oh here is a person we don’t really know
we’ll have to make sure that he becomes alert to and responsive to and sensitive
to the multicultural richness of our country we didn’t have to uplift you we
didn’t have to say oh John you’re a southern fellow and there’s very
significant African-American writers and you should be paying attention to that I
mean that’s you know all that so so you’re not saying keep it disconnected
keep these studies disconnected from our present moment you are frequently saying
to the American people pay attention to this whole range of cultural diversity
pay attention to the diversity of writers in the south and in the West and
notice so so talk a little bit more about what you want if you tell a
history of American you leave out my state saw my last position in
Mississippi is seventy percent African American sittings from remarkable things
I was there with the governor last Monday dedicating the marker outside of
Eudora Welty’s house I could have driven two miles away and there was Jackson
State where Alice Walker who we know for the altar color purple she was there
with Bill Ferris you know who of course later became a mentor and NEH chair a
mile past that was where Megan Evers was assassinated now my father moved from
Alabama, Mississippi because three miles that way was where the first time they
ever put a heart transplant they put a primates heart into a human being
and it transformed the world and so in the telling of the full fullness of that
state is the state where we had assassinations that we had Miss Welty as
we call her and we also had Dr. James Hardy’s transplant he did
the first heart-lung transplant in the world in that same city and so that’s
just telling about American history when I when I left in Mississippi Delta and I
and one a dockery farm which was actually it wasn’t part of a plantation
it was a sharecropping town but you had Charlie Patton and you had muddy water
she had BB King there and this is just a you know a field at this point and and
they transformed American music there and so when I left there and I went to
Cody and I had a great an incredible museum there you know the Buffalo Bill
Center but we drove a few miles away in the shadow of heart Mountain was a
Japanese-American internment camp and when we left there we went to you know
Crow Agency in Montana to the two Little Bighorn College and I was there with a
wonderful scholar Jeanine piece and I’m patty and Jeanine and say you’re more
that’s the same generation they both have MacArthur fellows patty doesn’t
bring it up if I had one outward in a baseball cap you know but you know these
are known as the genius grants I think about this remarkable women who
transformed American history of the West and the resources of her institution
that requires like native language immersion and crow language and that
about you know they have fewer than 300 students and a modest resources but an
incredible archive and I think about the wonderful resources of this institution
in the center and the agency my agency has to be open and available and
listening learning from both and so so that’s the idea and and having that one
week we think about the African-American experience in America we think about the
Native American experience in America we think about then the interns apon EES
Americans experience that is a full telling of American experience and I
and I don’t say that as as an apologist I I think that we’ve been a remarkable
experiment I do not look at it government or another nation said there
is what I seek what I want to do is tell more fully who we are and if you allow
me I think I for quote things of it’ll be very close to right but maybe I
should say they’re all rough possibly paraphrases but but Thomas Jefferson
complicated individual you know that he was full of contradiction as we all are
but in a letter in 1816 he’s writing somebody so this isn’t a famous speech
this is just Jefferson’s mind at work and he says something that really guides
me he says a nation that expects to be ignorant and free and a state of
civilization expects what never was and will never be and so if you want to know
what the humanities are about it on this campus in this state at the national
level what the agency about we are a wall against ignorance we are
steadfastly driving forward a commitment to freedom and it is inconceivable you
have civilization at any point separate of the humanities so I sometimes put
that up is is you know Jefferson is a founder and again with all his
incompleteness and sometimes to pare it off
I will take my reading from Zoar Neale Hurston I at the NEA of the director of
the big read if you all know that project and that was a great part of my
career and I loved it and Zoar Neale Hurston the Eyes Were Watching God was
part of this a lot of us know there is a novelist African American novelist and a
folk voice and I love all the research we’ve heard today the advanced
humanities research is going on here the digital humanities
but sometimes when I get so in that esoteric word world
I come back to Zora Neale Hurston and I’ve said this in print other places
she was s about research and she said it’s formalized curiosity and I love
that too so that’s my shorthand what business are you in I’m in the business
of curiosity exploring it producing and preserving it
you know expanding so you mentioned the baseball cap that might say so we have I
think we’ve come up with a hopeful design for a t-shirt today and I’m going
to quote the phrase of yours that seems like we would all
wear it as a t-shirt it’s says Tocqueville not pearls good Oliver
trolls but Tocqueville over trolls Tocqueville over trolls. could you
explain the genesis of that and where we can buy our t-shirts that I don’t I
don’t know if I heard it from somebody or not but at least I said it in print
so I’ll argue for it if there’s a t-shirt royalties but it was a
conference I was asking our humanities magazine I did a interview that’s online
now and I was a question of her freedom of expression on campuses you know where
do your rights begin and where to mine the end and this kind of thing and and
as somebody’s values and conduct and theories so offensive that you should
shot him down or protest and what-have-you and
and I said I won’t go into it here but I said I’m pretty much where the
University of Chicago has been on this they had a statement about the freedom
of expression and in general they felt that when you go into the world you know
you don’t get to police every little you know I don’t like your cubicle this way
and this way and no idea that in in the world you deal with a lot of complexity
a lot of people have a lot of different values than me different from yours and
you have to finally navigate that and that we want to be watchful in our
campuses if we teach somebody that you can only have an independent thought
within the chalk lines and and and what have you and so I do affirm that Chicago
position about allowing views if for four years that I was educated I only
had people that agreed with me and I was at a min corner it would be a deficient
education having said that I said it’s a citizen as a parent a taxpayer citizen I
do make value judgment our job is to make value judgments a I’ll fund this
not that they know they might be both great they might not but I make value
judgments for a living and so I did say that that we can bring
discernment we can say what we stand for and and is a
difference between rational presenting I was pretty precise in writing so I would
point you to that for the most precise wording but but a rational position that
you don’t agree with as something that I believe belongs on our campus
you know cunning or ranting what white supremists as a parents in a taxpayer I
do not want to federally subsidized that act but and then I went on to say
Tocqueville over over trolls yeah so and I want to be clear I’m talking about
subsidizing an act versus banning an act there’s a lot of nuance there but
it’s um we are we have had over reactions and and I don’t believe an act
of violence owning to prevent a speaker on campuses is is acceptable under any
terms .Speaking of campuses and professors and connecting humanity studies to the
present I’m gonna get this story wrong but I believe or subtly wrong that when
Hubert Humphrey was supporting the creation of the National Endowment for
the Humanities and wanting the humanities to have a funding source that
would be comparable those smaller with science funding my understanding is that
something went awry where humanities professors were brought to testify on
behalf of this and they sadly became ultra professorial and pontificated and
spoke and a not particularly engaging way to the public and that a Hubert
Humphrey really had to call in some chits for that that is that it’s
possible for I don’t don’t think I have the story exactly right but there is
something that might have happened right at the start where professors
preoccupied with narrow research interests might have weakened the
initial start of the creation of your agency so I want to talk about this
whole matter of getting professors and their research fully engaged with the
public fully benefiting the public and I’m gonna quote from you that in right
and speaking of of how literature can be it can be taught this is a remark about
literally you could certainly make this for any other humanities field this is a
quotation from you I wish that we would spend more time talking how we came to
love these literary works as opposed to chasing varied messages between
sentences now that could be we could walk a few hundred yards and we could be
in some office spaces where those would be fighting words but there it’s always
makes you nervous if somebody reads you back something in front of our audience
and I think being recorded and says do you still stand by these words I could
stand by those words I won’t so the the groups that advise on the establishment
of the agency there were three cultural groups in any number of professors that
weighed in and some of those groups have played a vital role of Phi Beta cap and
others over the over the decades so I won’t get in to that or not I think the
movement of government and legislation through Congress is not always a
transparent act I’m on the first chairman we’ve ever had there’s been a
federal grant maker before him about a decade into being a pointee of the two
endowments and and that I’ll have some deficiencies but but one of the
advantages will be you just understand naturally how all these things work and
so I don’t know if that’s a compliment that bureaucracy is you know the coat I
put on every day but but that that quote about literature and I so I you know
edited books in terms of being a university president in other people’s
books I I edited co-edited a book on Flannery O’Connor myself I worked for
the Mexican government to introduce contemporary American
in a bilingual project and so I’ve done some scholarship you know maybe you know
hundred works of literary cruises and journalism over the years because I’m
not really so much a writer as an editor but you know 100 works is still hundred
works and but I think two things where I would really love the Academy to think
through differently one I think we introduce literary theory into the
undergraduate education too early and I think it chases people off for example
my field of literature I think is more more of an issue in literature than say
history for Father’s Day you know all across the country buddy’s getting you
know the David McCullough John Adams hurry father so they can have a thousand
page book they won’t read or or you know The Greatest Generation
there’s no equivalent like we didn’t all rush out and give you know Harold blooms
book though I’ve been fine with that or you know there’s a finite amount of
literary people we would do that with but we would do that and some other
disciplines but not literature so I think we’ve introduced what are a theory
to early second in general across all the humanities I wish we would take our
finest teachers the ones who are teachers which is not always the same as
being a fine researcher and we would put them in their introductory classes
because when I get in front of a classroom I want to talk about why I
love it you know why when I I the book I did on Flannery O’Connor I came at her
first as somebody who loved her her work and I mean she was uh you know she could
be a bit of a grouch um she she was asked once you know how to form not
unlike this did we do enough to encourage young writers and she said
encouraged I don’t think we do enough to discourage him and and I think by the
way what she meant by that and is that it’s a complicated life the light for
the mind and particularly the creative writer is financially strong the way she
was is an independent short story writer novelist and the act of discouraging for
her was the idea that you should do with your life or your passion
about and I do wish in our classrooms we talk more about passion and more about
what we loved and so and so you know I think about Robert Penn Warren great
great poet of course you know him as its the only writer to win the Pulitzer in
two genres he won’t want it for his novel all the king’s men he went to
other childress for poetry and then great point Mia’s about Audubon
book-length poem and at the end of it he says and this time in place of mania
tell me a story tell me a story of deep delight what if we don’t do that in grad
school we lay it on the table and we dissect it and and we find that Flannery
O’Connor was doing this because because she was a Catholic in the Protestant
South and she did this because she has lupus that she was dying of it her
father died of it and he was complicated because he was shell-shocked from World War One and there was no treatment for that PTSD and and I’m all for learning all
that I am all for it but let us begin in the end always in a place of why we love
it and I wish we had more of that and so I stand by it yeah and one
of the things you’ve said last day here is that by being an editor your stance
as NEH chair has been quite different because you will have to ask the
question who’s the audience which all the scholars who have preceded you in
that position that may not have been the first thing in their minds well first
thing if all the footsteps are just remarkable remarkable people and I would
say in general my superior in every way as scholars and and and they’re all
asking a multitude of questions but but I do come at it as an editor certainly
and so who’s the audience of course the audience of American people one day is
Congress is White House it’s it’s fellow granters you know there’s a lot of
different people and so I’m telling a lot of different stories if a scholar if
you’re a scholar and you to this job then you’re probably saying
what can I do depends the crews of other scholars which is a very noble goal and
it’s a byproduct of what we do and I’m for that and I’m doing that
having said that I’m thinking about how do we embed the humanities into our
communities in our culture outside our campus walls in a way that it defines
and transforms our communities and so that’s talking to your audience in a
little bit of a different way that’s talking about the public humanities in a
different way that means that for example I was trained in the Western
canon in a very traditional way but I believe in all histories which are
essential to Native American cultures in and African American culture if you’re
going to tell the story before you know the Reconstruction period and I believe
in that because for example I was trained in Homer and if you don’t
believe in oral history then you have no interest in Homer you know you have no
entry Bell wolf you know and so forth so I think sometimes we say well you can
either like a multicultural curriculum or you can like the Western canopy you
can’t like both and and that’s ill-informed
and and and I don’t know why you know we can’t be more expansive and our thinking
so we’re spending a lot of time going around the country talking to groups
that aren’t putting everything in a box and having worked at the Arts endowment
humanities endowment you know understand why we have university departments and
we need them but out in the world as citizens I don’t go to event and say
well now I’ll have my arts day and then maybe I’ll get my humanities day no I’m
gonna have my enriching cultural experience and and and these are very
fluid matters and so I would like them down let to think about that more
holistically so I have just two questions before we go to the rest of
the group and first one is to ask you to speak about your work with soldiers and
how that began and how that went on and what places you travel to and who you
worked with and I hope that you’ll get the phrase
of how in this project you’ll speak of the request which writers honored was to
park their politics before they went into the work that you were coordinating
so sure okay and I’ll do that so I’ll back up a little bit in say so finish
grad school I become a University Press editor I go back to another college and
I’m running publications and communications and I’d met a visiting
writer when I was a book editor but in that first few months after her bill
Ferris had recommended me for this job I met a co-worker and in a small offices
did the really terrible idea of falling in love with a co-worker and since we’ve
married 25 years it worked out but boy if it did not that was going to be an
unfortunate place to work and I went to the airport to pick up the visiting
writer and in general if the visiting writer can later be named chairman of a
federal agency that’s the right person to pick up so yes in some ways I when I
told the students to say the important point is to be lucky in life but the
reality is is to put into work so I went to pick up that visiting poet Dana Joya
and he just published camp poetry matter in the Atlantic and he was kind of at
the height of his you know of a fame at that moment and a great poet and we
stayed in touch for a decade we correspondent we spent riding back and
forth so a decade goes by I’m running a communications office at a college
president Bush names nominates him as chairman of the NEA
and Chairman Joya says will you come to Washington and be my speechwriter I
said yes and I was appointed as his speechwriter
except he’s a better writer than I am in and he didn’t need me to be a
speechwriter and we’re about a month in this job I’m his aide to campus is
counselor officially and I’m maybe you know 30 years old I’m little green and
and we’re at the gathering the state poet laureates and it’s a bar and it’s
midnight if you won’t and in 49 of the 50 state
poet laureates were there and bars you know a natural place within conduct
business and it was April of 2003 okay so we’re already in Afghanistan
we’re rolling toward Baghdad and we’re there of Marilyn Nelson
she’s the poet laureate of Connecticut she’s the daughter for Tuskegee Airmen
she’s a pacifist and peace activist she also though had just spent the last year
teaching at West Point and if West Point US Military Academy at West Point adopts
your book is that every cadet reads it coming in then you teach there and she
said I’m a pacifist I said fine I’m a you know everything to go down the list
and and she said and I want to teach poetry meditation she thought she had
finally given the one thing they could there they said fine teach poetry
meditation and what she was saying to Dana’s and she said on my cadets are
going to war and you know all my classmates when went to vietnam and said
you know we protested I said I don’t I don’t think we did them right and they
weren’t welcome back and I don’t want to see it to happen these young boys and
girls and so chairman Joya we thought the
war be a few months you know and he said well John will run it being keep your
politics off the bases and he said I’m not debating what you know I know 90% of
our right of friends but you keep your politics off the bases so we got Tobias
Wolff and then we you know and other Vietnam vets I went you know to
interview Shelby Foote he was 88 if 16 years at the Ken Burns so Ken Burns
got to him when he was voice I like Moses in civil war by the time I got
told me was God you know and and he wasn’t to do the interview but I said
well you know sir I’m from the SIP and he’s like okay cuz I’m in the tribe you
know and and so I went to Memphis and I interviewed him about serving in World
War II and Richard Wilbur and and all these World War II vets and so that was
gonna be a side project on a short war and I spent eight years in Afghanistan
Kyrgyzstan Bahrain Persian Gulf military hospitals
various parts of the world and 30 domestic bases and what we did is we
went and we used either a work of oral history and then writing works types of
samples and we said send us your wartime experiences we want to have something
cathartic and 10,000 pages of writing came in
Random House published the book edited by Andrew Carroll the independent film
that Peter Jennings started before he died during productions was a finalist
for the Oscar and this happened because two poets were in a bar at midnight and
they said what yeah what if and along the way distinguished professors
talented professors called chairman Joya and I war propagandists in
writing we’re a partner with DoD because that’s how you get on a base and and I
do not apologize for that I’m going to the Air Force Academy on Thursday body
to talk about that experience and and the toughest part you want to talk about
it I don’t I don’t sweat the controversies in the fear again I care
about rigor the hardest part of being a federal grant maker is you know sitting
in what was the old post office now that Trump hotel and I and the Chairman has
the turrets the Chairman do is the old post masters office and I saw the
Washington Monument my phone rings seven or eight maybe my daughter’s five
or six you know and I haven’t been home at a reasonable hour and I don’t know we
on and I turned down a piece of writing for there we got 10,000 pages we put
probably 800 manuscript pages in that book and a woman’s son had drowned in
training to be a czars rescue you know the kind of the lead of the lead the
kind of Navy Seal of rescue and he had drowned and we couldn’t we couldn’t find
a path put in the boat and she said you know it’s you’re saying his life didn’t
matter you know you’re saying you know didn’t mean it just didn’t happen this
is you know like you know your this is a wound all over again what you’ve done to
me and my family and I just remember the the grief of it and and nothing I said
was the right thing to say and I think what I needed to be was something that
she could send that out and get it out of her body and toward me but I’m going
back on the Metro and it’s late and I’m go to the end of the life of the Metro
and I had you know I Dylan Thomas in Maya
and I go back and I had to get my old anthology from college to remind me you
know we say in English not to begin with a conjunction and we don’t want you to
be repetitive but I can tell you what I looked at was and death shall have no
dominion the beginning line of the poem it began with a conjunction every stanza
begins with it every stanza ends with the deployments with it and death shall
have no dominion and everything about those eight years of federal service
were about death shall have no dominion end and I think in some in some manner
that’s that’s what you and I are after right I mean that that it will not hold
sway over us so my final question is pointing out something that apparently
had not struck you that you are younger than your agency as your agency
celebrated its 50th birthday in 1965 and you have you’re just a Gina on
celebrating your 50th birthday is that right so to have you be the first
chairman who was younger than the agency that seems to position you to say what
about this what are the traditions of the National Endowment for Humanities
that must be preserved what are the traditions that should be remodeled
adapted what are things that made sense Oh
decades ago and are really not quite fitting us now sure well interesting
said remodeled because I’m remodeling our 1980s bathroom in our basement and I
I feel a lot older than 50 let me tell you and as don’t-don’t-don’t tile
bathrooms to unwind from your Federal service I think is I’m gonna do federal
service for dummies and that’s the first page so you get it free here so so yes
so we’ve had 11 chairman and so the federal agencies where you’re called its
gendered chairman whether you’re male or female but a couple of points there from
one plot changing and Lynne Cheney is the only female since 1965 to ever serve
as chairman I believe everybody’s been Caucasian it’s been differ on the art
side Julia is hispanic Jingshu asian-american
but so all the chairmen before me were born in the 1910s 1910s 30s and 40s with
the Dex youngest being born during the Truman administration so so it is a
difference in the sense that I never had a full-time professional job when the
internet didn’t exist the digital humanities are just the humanities to me
we still refer to things as born-digital but really frankly they’re just born you
know and so when I see in the academy the innovators and the kind of young
grantees are doing podcasts for dissertations and I and they’re talking
about maker studios and at Ummat experiential learning but then they’re
going into the old system try to get tenure then you hope you have somebody
who’s a gatekeeper such as Patty or some of the other professors I met here
that are open to that there aren’t going to be a barrier to that I’m not going to
say no tenure looks like a monograph book that 150 people are gonna buy to
cost a hundred and sixty dollars you know and there’s written in a specialist
language but instead it’s the idea that if we can have the public humanities
that we could talk about energy policy a scholarly way that we could talk about
conservation that we can talk about migration patterns in the nation in a
scholarly way but there CAD amia steps and the public learns problems and so I
am spending a lot of time talking about for example my job isn’t to reward great
grant writing the big institutions have sponsored research office they can write
at five or six times they can fly their scholars to Washington and and the
professors are teaching a lighter load if they’re at a distinguished
institution such as this I’m leaving tribal colleges and universities so
that’s not the case they’re teaching for four loads college presidents that don’t
have an administrative assistant so they answer their own phone and
and they’re engaged and they’re driven and they’re passionate and maybe that
draft didn’t get for going over you know and and part of what I want to say to
the smaller institutions underserved institutions wherever they may be which
by the way can very much be LA or New York or Chicago or Miami is that I am
not focused or over focused on the grant writing I want to know if you receive
these federal funds what would you do and why would it matter and so so many
times we are reporting activities I don’t care about activities I care about
outcomes and so I want to move the needle and I don’t think that you need
to me I think other children have certainly had that idea of certainly
been successful in it and I’m learning from them but if you asked where do I
come at it that’s that’s certainly one way that I that I come at this matter
take a few questions and then after three or four questions you’ll quote
Aundre G so don’t do that just yet supposed to be very natural it will be
everyone when she sent me questions I said they’re fine I glanced them but
don’t want to read them because I would you don’t be robotic but but you being
robotic I don’t see as a real threat there I’m okay with that
oh so a few questions so I manatees Park in the philosophy
department here and I think what’s a teaching to humanities are keenly aware
about sites that the humanities are somewhat under siege these no I appreciate it I mean I don’t know
The Chronicle higher education has a new lengthy humanities article once every
two weeks you know and I’m in a peculiar thing if i retweeted people think I’m
endorsing you no matter whatever the line may say but I think it’s a book
editor I just want to publish them at the end every month and you know into
some book the humanities are for lack of a better word either seen as declining
enrollment or under siege in some ways and I’ve had versions conversation with
it maybe a dozen Falcon gamers today your Dean and provost who made time for
four useful meetings today I would say this college is very expensive parents
are more than ever focused on how can we economically you know get on the back
end what we paid for and and they view that as engineering business you know
these these other fields the thing is statistics don’t to always
back that up that it’s something you know the saying your Provost sees the
same numbers I do which is those individuals in humanities when you look
at income of five or ten years at the highest level compensation on
that it’s going to overlap with a lower level compensation of a engineer or
something so one economically it’s always driven by the success of the
individual I do believe quite strongly in the individual if you want to talk
about generalist numbers it’s not underappreciated fact that if you want
to matriculate into Medical School English and music of the two most cos
most consistently decade after decade those are the fields to be in when MIT
did a study and I’ll have this part very much a paraphrase that I could find
precisely but but they looked at the skills that their engineers their
graduates needed and within four years the actual training in the classroom of
a technical nature was already obsolete the same way my we’ve known each other
since college if we were still doing Fortran with those cards in college you
know we’re not doing a whole lot of that anymore
I can tell you that what I learned about the Roman and Greek civilization and the
classics department van der boat is still useful in Washington DC every day
of the week and so we teach essential life skills and I think it’s important
and that the first person to save the community so it’s not so much about
preparing you for the salary of a first job but it’s preparing you for a career
if I would add one more day to a college campus visit I would meet with a Career
Center and I’d meet with the college admissions office because College
Commission is generally done by undergraduates owe me a few years out
they have just come out of the influence of the parents and who understand why
and rightfully fear and I I have an 18 year old was enrolled in college at a
wonderful and expensive University and she’s a violist so you know I you know
you know Here I am I’m writing poetry and her mother’s ordained Southern
Baptist minister so it’s not like we picked the practical lucrative field so
I really can’t knock her for falling in love with classical music but um she
also like any number of people in the humanities I think is destined for a
full and engaged life as a citizen and so we need to make an economic argument
we need to talk about life skills and when you talk about developing careers
because I would not build an entire agency around the securing of the first
job at the age 22 I want to know at 32 42, 52, 62 to do you have the
life skills to to have you know an economically viable life
and is it enriched life and and a life that you you get back to your community
I don’t know that we’ve done the greatest job on that I I think we have
to often say to eat your spinach you know the other thing is humanities are
absolutely declining there are stories within that rhetoric is kind of gone as
a field in some ways sociology is it’s kind of caught between anthropology went
toward the hard sciences psychology you went toward Pharma and other things and
some some areas are gonna be low loss but I quickly and I’ll try to quickly
get to sign I have a great sense of time but I get cuspid three or four minutes
or something cuz it really matters you asked me 15 years ago where philosophy
was I would have probably off my off the cuff said gosh I don’t know if you make
an argument for the undergraduate master’s degree in philosophy and there
aren’t enough tenure track jobs for the Gawker position I think I might have
made that argument not from a position of knowledge but I could have said that
off the cuff I the panel that would be profoundly ignorant in this moment
because you cannot have any informed conversation decision-making about
artificial intelligence without having a core philosophy field which is say
ethics so and I don’t know if I believe at one point some hypotheticals were set
up in Atlantic magazine article so this could derive from a premise they have
but if I the I don’t know how much it matters if I move in the camera but but
we’ll just um we’ll just say that the you know we’re in a car we’re both in a
car of movie is a self-driving car and and it’s a two-lane road we’re driving
this way there’s traffic coming this way okay
a dog runs out in front of us and you know and we’re going 10 miles an hour
self-driving car sees that starts actually beeping before it crosses into
the roadway and goes into this Lane okay you can program an engineer would
program it to go into this Lane okay we’re going to miles an hour the same
thing happens but there’s a car there maybe you program in that we’re gonna
cut our bumpers we’re going to a mess at the front we’re gonna save the
dog’s life I don’t think the decisions gonna be that you do that I think the
engineers might just say well hit the dog
you can’t intentionally drive into another vehicle that exposes you legally
a lot of things that’s what the lawyers might say the engineers might program it
okay so we have that and we’re not yet there is no ethicist involved in this
conversation yet the dog got loose and the 7 year old girl is going behind it
after it you can hit the dog maybe the scientists say you it’s a 7 year old
girl’s quote fault in the sense that you did not go into her path you
would deviate not the run of the 7 year old girl the engineers would tell you
and you would go and you would hit this car at 10 miles an hour and maybe you’re
gonna lose in court you know you’re not going 10 miles an hour everything I just
told you about you’re going 50 if you deviate from that girl and hit a car
head-on at 50 miles an hour and you kill them it’s manslaughter some Engineer
just put me if you do not have an ethicist helping you think through that
if you do not have an ethicist involved in Facebook and all them when they’re
trying to figure out what ads to run before an election
then you had built a company that will ultimately fail period no caveat so I
can tell you that I thought a humanities field was theoretical and and maybe out
of its moment not from any insight frankly you know not as a somebody
within the field and and now I can tell you that that if I was educating
engineers you know you would have it I don’t care if it’s bioethics or ethics
or ethics of land management but you would have something and I’ll quickly
say this and a little bit of a pitch went so the five years that I was at UVA
between the endowments the University of Virginia I was under the vice president
research Thomas Gaillac and they got some fun of money government money and
the Chesapeake Bay had been polluted you wouldn’t want to drink out or swim in it
whatever and basically all the cut of waste was coming down from New England
area and nitrates running all from fertilizer
and what have you it was killing all the oysters and the bay game is this is
computer modeling simulation is it started for high schools and middle
schools but there are live ones you can do in museums and so you’re an oyster
man and you want to Mack you want to send your kids to college and you want
to maximize it because you got to pay off your big boat and then and so you
take you take whatever am I still okay you take whatever the normal harvest is
and you increase it by 25% all right I own the land up there I you know it’s
been two rough years in a row and great weather and I’m gonna fertilize this
stuff like crazy because I’m gonna make a great harvest
prices are up we’re exporting heavily and so you do that and I do that I’ve
killed your oyster beds and you even if I did nothing have killed them because
are enough to reproduce and and there are any number of groups from people
have tourist ships to whatever to commercial fishermen and the idea is
that in real time you get to see how far my actions in true direct somebody else
and think about if we had a humanities game that talked about energy right
fracking whatever in the West and this is an idea where you can take your
computer scientists and your modeling and digital humanities and just
traditional public humanities conversations and you can have a rich
thing and it’s a experiential learning that’s what I love about it is it’s not
theoretical I’m not saying read a 300 page book I’m saying if you want to
reintroduce a wolf or this or that they’ll let the rancher and the person
wants to do that and a third party come together and let’s all see what our
natural inclinations and self-interest what it does to local economy or others
and and that’s the kind of things that humanities can do so so I love textbooks
I’m a book collector but I think we should look at it ways of investing in
the humanities as a real practical thing so I’m I’m sorry to make that a essay
but I don’t have the answer I some of these declines I could continue
but we would do much better I don’t know as an English major if I needed the 14th
class in English maybe what I needed was a requirement to have an internship or
to write copy for a newspaper an ad agency and online newspaper or something
applied humanities is a component of my education what I can say is those ideas
are going to come from the nonprofit sector and the universities and so we
don’t my job isn’t to dictate to you the vision what it is is to have guidelines
that are nimble enough so that you conceive of something and then we we
invest in those curriculum changes and those grants are at two and three
hundred thousand dollars so it’s a real number okay we’re getting a little short
on time so is there a thank you and so it’s very nuanced and we have seven
divisions I won’t go into all of them but one of them’s gonna be a research
and it’s gonna be very esoteric right it really may be that this person has the
most insightful views of 12th century manuscripts you know and wants to
educate us about Coptic religion then and I’m not gonna write about that and
I’m not saying that change the whole world or is apply in the examples I’ve
just given I still want to invest in that person I want to invest in
understanding world culture and languages and having on that particular
campus you know somebody who has a deep expertise and so some areas like
research are for that and it’s gonna be esoteric some of them I’m going to be
public programming in the museum’s and what have you so it’s a practical matter
we received several thousand applications a year we give out a
hundred and twenty million dollars a year that generates about again five
dollars and other economic activity so of the
course of a chairmanship you should generally think of it as I have half a
billion dollars to spend in this sector catalytically I don’t want anything to
be only federally funded because it means it wasn’t institutional community
buy-in and that half billion dollars again will generate about $5 so what can
we do with two and a half billion dollars in the humanities sectors and
and that’s enough that you can start having an impact so it’s a mix of public
museum shows curriculum changes research the digital humanities and of course 40%
going to our state partners so that is certainly going to mean that Colorado
encyclopedia it might mean for example here and and your professors here have
been involved in this is language revitalisation a generation ago we were
talking about saving Native American languages in terms of preserving them we
were talking about migrating old tapes to an online platform so people could
hear them and that was a way to to take what was going to be extinct and
presented in a more useful platform we still do a little bit of that with the
National Science Foundation in and and we’ve done that with a rapaho here what
I like I love that what I love even more is language revitalization projects so
he gave 2 point 1 million dollars last year to with the support of the council
members to the first First Nation Development Fund and that is for 12
immersive language projects where you have an elder tell the stories and then
you have a middle aged family member or community member and then a say
college-age and a teen and the idea that you’re keeping these languages lie the
vocabulary alive and so I’m sorry there’s a little close to your what
you’re talking about maybe not on the on the head of it but some again the public
humanities in education are going to be very very practical and then some are
going to be the cutting edge of research and we’ve already for
example our intersection of chemistry and Museum Studies means that when you
box up a piece this is some kind of popping this put here it’s off-gassing
things the way it was glued down and you put a case over it in a museum it’s
gonna off gas in a way that if this isn’t released for eight years and there
was an object in there it’s gonna affect it and so we’re doing a lot about
looking at off gassing the smithsonian restored the star-spangled banner and
that’s incredible we paid for the graduate fellowships 20 years before to
educate the curators who did it and so we’re investing in an unknown future and
and some of it’s just you know we our founding legislation says among other
things the democracy demands wisdom and vision in its citizens by the way not in
its government which is implied but in its citizens the idea that we have some
responsibilities here and so I come back to these kind of large ideas about for
me I want to embed projects that will carry through 2026 and their 250th
anniversary of the Declaration of Independence and and to deal with issues
such as cultural neva it is as astonishing the lack of kind of
knowledge we’re seeing in and you might fill in these moments that the left mine
aren’t aren’t terribly your united mount around much i’m a congress all the time
where people of both parties are saying we want people to know more about our
nation and the full complete nation the south the west indigenous people but but
the curb erosion of knowledge is a profound problem so quote unredeemed
okay well see if somebody put you in the spot it doesn’t organically get worked
in no you’re in boulder colorado so you keep using the word organic I know it’s
out there’s I I also misuse the word up by osmosis too
you know when Patti was saying the feelings of her and others that were
appointed by President Obama and I and the anxiety of not just political party
but the President’s budget request and and then finding ultimately that that
she understood what I was doing not that we agree on every decision I came back
to something to Andre gage you know the course of French writer philosopher
novelist said he said don’t understand me too quickly and you know I’m gonna
social media all the time but it’s not a great one for that particular sentence
don’t understand me too quickly don’t hear my accent don’t hear where I came
from don’t look at my gender don’t don’t look
at my political affiliations and presume that you know me it’s you know Whitman
said it right I contain multitudes you contain multitudes and so so that’s it
don’t understand me too quickly you know and in the south and it speak we don’t
ask what your occupation we said who were you from who your people and and
you know my lastly and bearing for that just a second um so I’ve had the
pleasure and honor serving these administration’s and but I’m never gonna
do better and achieve more than when I taught night classes at a community
college when I was between jobs I’d have followed my wife and then and I’m
teaching comp classes in Mississippi at a community college and then I started a
little publishing house and I get a job at a college and I’m doing three jobs
and I’m only like a week ahead of the students and I had forgotten how to
diagram a sentence and you know and all this stuff and I was making about two
grand a class I didn’t do it for four months and first class a woman comes to
me she may be older middle-aged and she wants to be late to my class and I’m a
stickler I really want a Friendly’s of teachers I don’t think I was you know
anxious and young and and I said well you know beginning of our lationship
you’re gonna be light and she’d be late every Tuesday or something like this
because she cleans hotel rooms and she’s gonna be late because sometimes it takes
longer to clean a hotel room because somebody left it dirtier than you
thought and that’s it yeah you can be like and she got her associate’s degree
did she could be a bank teller that you know you needed some kind of education
beyond high schools was the idea and that was gonna transfer him her life and
maybe her children’s and the reason I what the controversies everything else’s
I have a cup of no more star here and that’s her and I want her to come home
from a long day at work and I want to build turn on PBS and see Ken Burns and
the other films that we funded and those children if they go to college alone
they have an institution that has a humanities center that she’s educated
with somebody who published a book under our research and I want there to be a
museum and they’re in their community that had visit this you know the work we
funded and and in all candor if we don’t exist for her if we don’t serve her then
I don’t get the point of endowment I really don’t and so so the you know
life you accumulate a lot of North Stars but but she kind of keeps me where I
need to be sometimes and and and so that’s the idea people talk about the
applied humanities at digital humanities just all humanities it’s just all you
know that kind of burning toward learning you know thank you for visiting
the University of Colorado and for speaking with us tonight thank you
you you

One thought on “An Evening of Conversation with Jon Peede NEH Chairman

  1. Love Patty Nelson Limerick! She was my thesis advisor in college and was a thoroughly engaging teacher and historian of the American West.

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