From the News column of the October 2005 Perspectives

Mellon Foundation Suspends Funding for Fellowships in Humanistic Studies

AHA Staff, October 2005

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has decided to suspend funding for its portable one-year Fellowships in Humanistic Studies as of the fall of 2006. There will be no competition in the coming academic year.

This particular program of Mellon fellowships, which was launched in 1993, was administered by the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, and provided a total of nearly $34 million in student support (exclusive of the costs of administering the program). Covering full tuition and stipends for entering graduate students during their first year of graduate study, the program—like an earlier, multiyear fellowship program it replaced, and which was also funded by the Mellon Foundation and administered by the Woodrow Wilson Foundation—was intended to encourage the pursuit of PhDs in the humanities. The fellowships have been awarded in nationwide competitions marked by their intensity and rigor, and the fellows who have been chosen have been exceptionally promising scholars.

In a communication dated August 1, 2005, William G. Bowen, the president of the Mellon Foundation, and Harriet Zuckerman, senior vice president of the foundation explained that the foundation's decision reflected "the significant changes in the conditions of doctoral education in the humanities over the last decade."(The letter can be found online at http://www.mellon.org/MellonAnnouncements.htm.) Among the significant changes they listed are: the fact that many humanities departments (where Mellon Fellows tend to go) have reduced the numbers of first-year students they admit to better fund students who are admitted, as well as the shift toward providing new students with some form of multiyear funding packages.

Bowen and Zuckerman state that "strengthening the humanities has been a core commitment of the Mellon Foundation from its establishment in 1969," and point out that the foundation expended a total of $93 million on the two humanities PhD programs over 22 years and that the foundation took on a number of new activities in this area, including: sponsorship of a large-scale, $80 million initiative to encourage more than 50 departments at 10 universities to address the organization of graduate study and funding practices in their doctoral programs; support for a number of other fellowship programs in the humanities including dissertation fellowships, postdoctoral fellowships and fellowships at centers for advanced study, and the funding of independent research libraries and other specialized institutions.

Recognizing that the decision could cause concern about the foundation's longer-term intentions, Bowen and Zuckerman point out that at their most recent meeting, the foundation's trustees "reaffirmed their strong support for scholarship and graduate education in the humanities and humanistic social sciences." The funds provided for these activities will not be reduced, they write, but may be redeployed, and that this decision should be understood as a means of providing a 'time out' for the foundation's staff to consider new opportunities for supporting graduate education and research by young scholars in the humanities.

Those who have questions about the Mellon Foundation's plans, or have ideas they would like the foundation to consider, are invited to contact Harriet Zuckermnan at the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, 140 East 62nd Street, New York, NY 10021.

—Based on Mellon Foundation announcement of August 1, 2005.