Voices and Ideas

From the Secretary: ΦBK's Nonpartisan Advocacy

My winter column about Phi Beta Kappa’s nonpartisan advocacy prompted many conversations during my travels these past months. Many of you asked for additional instances of our work in this area, and I would like to share a timely example of urgent importance: preventing efforts to eliminate funding for the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA).

In February, the administration released its budget equest for FY 2021. As has been the case in previous years, the budget request proposes the orderly shutdown of the NEH and NEA, along with deep cuts to science research. As in past years, we do not anticipate that the budget request will have a significant influence on the appropriations process. That said, it is crucial that The Phi Beta Kappa Society, along with our partners in the arts, humanities, and science advocacy community, continue to advocate strongly and effectively in support of critical funding in the nation’s interest.

Our connection with the nation’s cultural endowments goes back to 1963. The Society cosponsored the National Commission on the Humanities, whose work led to the creation of the NEH and the NEA in 1965. A decade and a half later, Phi Beta Kappa played a founding role in the creation of the National Humanities Alliance (NHA), a nonpartisan advocacy coalition dedicated to advancing the humanities. More recently, Phi Beta Kappa members and staff along with advocates from the range of institutions that belong to the NHA successfully worked to restore funding for the national endowments to FY2010 levels.

This spring, our efforts will continue. We are building new partnerships with leading cultural organizations advocating on behalf of the cultural endowments. For the first time, the Society will attend the Americans for the Arts National Arts Action Summit and will serve as a national partner organization for the meeting. We are sponsors of the NHA Humanities Advocacy Day 2020, promoting it to our members on social media and in monthly newsletters. We maintained a visible Phi Beta Kappa presence during NEH and NEA public testimony days for FY2021. And we are updating the toolkit and e-alert with specific opportunities for members to take action as needed. I urge you to visit toolkit.pbk.org to see how you can be involved. Nonpartisan advocacy to support the arts and humanities is work in which we can all be engaged, and which is core to the mission of Phi Beta Kappa.


In closing, I would be remiss if I did not make mention of a loss in the Phi Beta Kappa family with the passing of my predecessor John Churchill. John’s dedication to championing the liberal arts and sciences was manifest through his scholarship as a philosopher, his roles as an academic administrator, his service twice as President of the NHA, and his distinguished tenure at ΦΒΚ that included the creation of the National Arts & Sciences Initiative. I will always be grateful for his wise counsel to me and his inspirational devotion to Phi Beta Kappa. He will be greatly missed. 

Frederick M. Lawrence

Secretary and CEO

(Posted on 3/24/2020 )