Publication Date

September 1, 1997

These columns, I am told, used to begin each academic year with a variant of, "As the leaves turn …." Now we begin each year, "As the legislators turn their axes …." Listed below are several of the issues we are watching closely on behalf of historians. Many of the issues reprise institutions and concerns pursued last year. Nevertheless, they seem worth listing for AHA members, in part because they convey the depth (and breadth!) of the challenges facing scholars who want to be full participants in their civil society, and in part because they enable us to extend recognition to the effective coalitions we have forged with other organizations representing the educational community. To be effective, historians will need to work both individually and through organizational channels (and the coalitions listed below suggest how the AHA does this). I hope this summary helps you in the former. Obviously, we would like to have your suggestions about the latter tactic as well.

"Son of Istook"

One of the greatest attacks on nonprofit organizations has been mounted over the last two years by Representatives David McIntosh (R-Ind.) and Ernest Istook (R-Okla.). Unconcerned that for-profit organizations paid by the federal government have the freedom to lobby and inform government agencies, Istook and company conducted a series of hearings (that failed to demonstrate a pattern of violations regarding lobbying), and successfully introduced legislative amendments that require very careful additional reporting and documentation of their activities for nonprofit organizations receiving federal funds. As a result, associations are having to tack carefully between the National Lobbying Act and the IRS regulations to figure out and declare the appropriate characterizations of their activities vis-a-vis the federal government.

This year Istook and company are trying to introduce an amendment to the fiscal 1998 Labor, Health, and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill to prohibit use of federal funds for "any activity designed to influence legislation or appropriations pending" at the state level. Lobbying with federal funds at the local level is already restricted to activity that is "necessary, reasonable, and related to the purposes of the grant" (such as conveying findings).

Given the lack of clarity between executive and legislative authority at the local level (for example, do school board decisions constitute legislative or executive decisions?), such an amendment would be impossible to implement but could clearly exercise a chilling effect. The greatest toll would be taken on organizations whose research provides important information for policy makers; this amendment would make it extremely difficult for them to communicate effectively what they have learned. (For example, organizations researching the impact of particular policies on children's issues would have difficulty conveying their conclusions to policymakers.) But the impact could be much broader, as all organizations involved in programming for the educational community and in creating new knowledge become super-cautious to protect their not-far-profit status and their ability to compete and receive federal support.

A coalition called "Let America Speak" circulates information for a number of organizations (many of whom belong to other coalitions that helped to form LAS). They provide testimony when hearings are held and keep nonprofit organizations alerted to both potential legislation and the enforcement implications once legislation is passed. With their assistance, the proposal was defeated in subcommittee. Following previous patterns, however, this provision is likely to be proposed as an amendment to a number of bills during the legislative process over the next few weeks (e.g., to the Treasury-Postal Service Appropriations bill). For additional information on the current status of this issue, contact Patrick Lemmon at OMB Watch (202-234-8494), Alexandra Jewett at the Alliance for Justice (202-822-8070), or Curtis Rumbaugh at Independent Sector (202-223-8100).

The National Endowments

After a series of complex maneuvers in the House regarding both endowments, at the time of this writing, developments had shaken out to the following extent (contact the coalitions listed below for further developments; also see the other descriptions of late-breaking events located elsewhere in this newsletter): The House passed an Interior Bill with $110 million for NEH and $10 million funding for NEA. The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee allocated $110 million to NEH and $100 million to NEA. Slate Gorton (R-Wash.), 'who chairs the Senate interior appropriations committee, has said several times that NEA and NEH would receive at least level funding this year, and he was quoted in the Washington Post in mid-July as planning a “modest” increase for the arts endowment. In two related House actions leading to these decisions, representatives defeated the Ehlers amendment to move NEA funding to the states in block grants and resoundingly defeated (328 to 96) a proposal by Steve Chabot to eliminate NEH entirely. At much the same time, Senator James M. Jeffords (R-Vt.) introduced a bill to reauthorize the endowments for another five years; this would enable Senate members of the conference committee to come to the negotiations with both funding and authorization proposals in hand.

Actions likely to affect conference committee deliberations include (1) in the routine White House letter sent to committee members on the Interior appropriations bill, the endowments received special emphasis and the president threatened to veto the bill if funding for NEA remained at the level specified; (2) new efforts were under way to move additional NEH funding to the states (some proposals call for more funds to accomplish this; others would whittle down the steady-state funding level already identified as the amount of support available); (3) a task force has been created by the Senate to look for "solutions" to NEA problems; although many of these solutions are included already in the Jeffords bill, there is the possibility that the task force will simply create a pastiche of favorite approaches (including significant block grants, perhaps in a ratio of 75 percent to 25 percent). Finally, at press time, Chair Sheldon Hackney had announced that he would delay his departure from NEH through the month of August, which makes available to these conference committee negotiations his established credibility and insights.

For late-breaking events and lists congressional contacts, if you are concerned about these issues, see the bulletins prepared by Page Putnam Miller for the National Coordinating Committee (distributed through H-NET) and John Hammer of the National Humanities Alliance (jhammer@cni.org).

Title VI and Fulbright-Hays Support for Area Studies

Funding and reauthorization activities for the Higher Education Act proceed, with relatively encouraging news for those concerned about the two sections relating to area studies. At least steady state funding may be anticipated, although there has been an effort under way to emphasize the connection to the president's determination to increase support for education with the capacities of Title VI programs. Reauthorization, too, has seemed to be moving forward in an uncomplicated way. However, a new development in this realm is HR 1511 (Rep. McKeon and Sen. Jeffords), which has been passed by both houses and awaits the president's signature. This bill establishes the "National Commission on the Cost of Higher Education," which is scheduled to hold its first meeting the week of August 11. It may also hold regional hearings. The commission is required to report back to Congress 120 days after the first meeting, so its report would be due the week of December 9. The rhetorical and political environment surrounding this bill may place the focus entirely on economic measures in a vacuum; to date, none of the materials that would be considered relevant to this commission's work have identified measures or issues relating to quality or to the fundamental purposes of higher education.

Developments for both the Higher Education Act and the new commission will be monitored by NHA (see contact information above). In addition, information on the Title VI and Fulbright in Higher Education Act may be obtained from Miriam Kazanjian at the Coalition for International Education (Miriam-Kazanjian@aau.edu).

Creation of Information about American Society

A number of debates about the scope and scale of data collected (as well as analyzed) have emerged among those concerned with social science-related research. Perhaps most dramatic is the decision by the White House to allow on census forms the option for Americans to choose more than one racial category in identifying themselves. For additional issues and information about developments in these areas, contact the Consortium of Social Science Associations (hjsilver@tmn.com).

State Standards in History-Social Science for High School Graduation

At a quite astonishing rate, a large number of states are producing new statements of standards expected of high school graduates in history and social science. The AHA, through its Teaching Division, monitors these documents very carefully, and sends comments on as many of them as it can profitably join in state-level deliberations. Based on these experiences, the vice president for the Teaching Division has been working with division members to craft a set of guidelines for the creation of good standards, and to call attention to some of the better ones being produced. In these efforts the AHA works especially with the National History Education Network (NHEN), which includes a number of other K-12 oriented organizations and partnerships among K-12 and postsecondary faculty. Information on standards already created and those under debate are available from NHEN, Carnegie Mellon University, Department of History, Baker Hall 240, Pittsburgh, PA 15213-3890.

Intellectual Property Rights

Perhaps the most complicated set of issues facing scholars at this moment relate to the future of control over intellectual property in the digital age. The Conference on Fair Use (CONFU), a nearly two-year project mounted by the White House to examine the intersection of property rights and fair use has essentially self-destructed, at least from the perspective of the educational community's desired goals. Under the aegis of the National Humanities Alliance, a broad-based group of stakeholders from the educational community (including creators, users, and disseminators of intellectual property) have prepared a statement to serve as the basis for future action. This statement was approved in lune by the AHA Council and is available on our web page. (It will be discussed in more detail in next month's Perspectives.)

Many of these same issues were pursued with considerably more success internationally this past year during the deliberations that have led to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) agreement. This agreement must now be ratified by participating countries; word comes in regularly that one or another national or extranational entity has agreed to the basic outlines. The legislation being introduced in the United States suggests that the international alliances in which educational community representatives participated will need to be brought home if a balance is to be achieved here between commercial interests and the free movement of intellectual property for fair use purposes.

Key pieces of legislation designed to implement WIPO but to not otherwise deal with the broad range of issues connected to intellectual property have just been introduced into Congress. The administration's bill focuses especially on two issues: (a) anti-"black box"-type technology, in order to prevent piracy; and (b) copyright management systems. This approach is contrary to the WIPO approach concerning piracy, which argued that legal emphasis should not be placed on technology (since this would have a chilling effect on potential new developments in electronic communication) but on behavior. Indeed, in presenting the House version of the bill, the administration's spokesman had to confess that despite rhetorical recognition of the importance of fair use, this bill (HR 2281) reduces fair use in the interest of preventing copyright infringement.

Monitoring of these developments is achieved, in part, by the NHA Committee on Libraries and Intellectual Property. Another coalition that is proving central in convening and clarifying issues related to electronic dissemination and intellectual property is the National Initiative for a Networked Cultural Heritage (NINCH). Visit the web site of NINCH for a broad range of materials related to these issues https://www-ninch.cni.org. Finally, the Digital Futures Coalition is a lobbying organization that tries to find consensus from the broadest possible community (ranging from scholarly and library organizations to software manufacturers) in order to present policy statements and proposed legislative language. It is monitoring a number of developments at present, including bills to limit copyright liability for material on-line and to prosecute piracy of software, as well as to follow through on the WIPO agreements to enable intellectual property laws to operate globally. Contact them at dfclist@listserv.alawash.org.

Taken together, this astonishingly wide range of issues suggests the challenges facing scholars and others who contribute to civil society and to the national understanding of the world in which America participates. From this perspective, it seems imperative that the AHA and its members see this larger picture, be willing to speak up, and to seek common cause with other organizations concerned about similar issues. We urge that you become active on these issues.

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