March 7, 2006

Sciences, humanties not on par in funding

It appears that not all divisions are not equal when it comes to giving at the U of C. While the science departments have benefited enormously from the latest fundraising campaign, receiving two of the largest donations in University history, the humanities have conspicuously lacked any similar high-profile achievements.

Since the University began the Chicago Initiative, its $2 billion fundraising effort, it has embarked on the construction of four major science facilities: the Comer Children’s Hospital, the Center for Integrative Sciences, the Center for Biomedical Discovery, and the Comer Center for Children and Specialty Care. These projects come at a combined cost of $590 million, much of which has been funded by a number of substantial gifts.

The arts and humanities, however, have seen nothing like this type of massive investment. David Thompson, associate dean for planning and programs in the Humanities Division, pointed to the Center for Creative and Performing Arts and the Center for the Study of Languages (CSL) as the division’s two biggest projects. The University plans to spend some $100 million on the art center, but the CSL will cost only $1.7 million.

Furthermore, while all of the major science facilities have started or completed construction, the Center for Creative and Performing Arts has not even broken ground and is slated to open sometime in 2010. According to Ron Schiller, vice president for development and alumni relations, its fundraising campaign began in late 2004 and has yet to target the general public, though the center was first recommended in 2001.

The goals of the Chicago Initiative appear to reflect this disparity as well. The fundraising target for Humanities Division was initially set at $100 million, including $30 million for the arts center. Of this, it has raised $43 million so far.

The Biological Sciences Division (BSD), on the other hand, began with a goal of $550 million. It has already surpassed this mark and set a new objective of $700 million, according to James Madara, dean of the BSD.

Much of this difference seems to arise from simple economic considerations. According to Schiller, scientific research requires especially complex facilities that tend to be much more expensive.

“The costs associated with the sciences are higher because of higher equipment and lab costs,” he said.

Madara believes another factor may be the tangible benefits that the sciences provide. “Dollars invested in biomedicine yield a measurable and large return on investment to our nation’s health and economy,” he said.

The practical applications of science also create personal connections with potential donors. Madara pointed to the fact that all people are familiar with disease, and many, including former patients, are eager to help fund cures.

Thompson admits the perception of low returns is a difficulty for the humanities.

“Many people still have the idea of someone sitting alone in their library reading a book,” he said. “It’s hard to compete against curing cancer.”

Still, the administration disputes the idea that the humanities are getting less support than they deserve. Schiller, who called humanities fundraising “very successful,” believes that the recent major successes in the sciences have overshadowed accomplishments by other divisions.

Danielle Allen, dean of the Humanities Division, agreed. “The humanities have also had some large gifts, though they have perhaps received less publicity,” she said, citing two donations of $5 million dollars from the Neubauer and Franke families in the past decade.

Noel Salinger, associate vice president for development, also warned against focusing too closely on the divisional fundraising goals. “Much of what has been raised for the College, the Smart Museum, the Oriental Institute, Court Theater, even the Social Sciences Division…represents the University’s strong commitment to…the arts and humanities,” he said.

Most seem to believe that the best way to close this gap is by highlighting the gains from humanities research.

Allen said she believes that the investment potential is unrivaled. “One million dollars goes a lot farther in the humanities than in the sciences,” she said.

Thompson pointed to the benefits of a better understanding of languages and cultures, especially as the world becomes more connected.

“People need to realize that humanities can help society as well,” he said.