ACLS Statement on COVID-19 and the Key Role of the Humanities and Social Sciences in the United States

The Association for Asian Studies has co-signed this statement from the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS). Download a PDF of the statement here.

August 12, 2020

Consider the spread of COVID-19, global environmental degradation, and the deep divisions around race in this country. Our collective responses to these and other challenges arise from understanding human behavior, the stories and beliefs that guide us, the cultures and values that we build and share, and the visionary aspirations of thinkers past and present. “Where there is no vision,” James Baldwin wrote, drawing from the book of Proverbs, “the people perish.”

At this critical moment in history, humanistic knowledge—the study of languages, history, culture, the arts, anthropology, archaeology, communication, philosophy, political science, psychology, religious studies, rhetoric, sociology, regional studies, and interdisciplinary areas—is crucial to envisioning and realizing a better future for the world. For this reason, we believe that humanistic education and scholarship must remain central to campus communities and conversations.

On behalf of the thousands of students, faculty, and members of scholarly societies devoted to the study of humanity, we call on all leaders of institutions of higher education to uphold the central importance of the humanities and the social sciences as you make important decisions that will shape the institutions under your stewardship for years and perhaps generations to come.

This is a time for institutions to explore new modes of organization that facilitate innovation while maintaining the integrity of a diverse range of academic disciplines, and to do so with a full embrace of American higher education’s tradition of shared governance.

COVID-19 and its economic consequences are placing immense pressures on college and university budgets across the United States. Preparing for decreases in tuition revenue or state funding or both, many institutions have announced freezes on hiring, reductions in numbers of contract and adjunct faculty, and cuts in funding for research. Some are considering eliminating entire departments and programs.

We respect the autonomy of every institution of higher learning and the good-faith efforts of administrators forced to make difficult decisions in historically unprecedented conditions of uncertainty and financial shock. With that respect must come an urgent reminder of the vital contribution made by the humanities and social sciences to the public good—a keystone of charters and mission statements adopted by colleges and universities across the country.

Humanistic study in American colleges and universities provides communal contexts in which students, increasingly diverse in background and experience, learn together about human reasoning, beliefs, and aspirations, social and political systems, and acts of creative expression produced across centuries and around the world. Humanistic study compels us to wrestle with complex questions, with difference and conflict as well as similarity. It furnishes us with diverse visions of the world and encourages us to refuse to take things for granted—capacities necessary to sustain a just and democratic society.

Humanistic education provides not only skills for democratic life, but also skills sought by employers, such as the analysis of conflicting evidence, complex problem-solving, clear communication, and the ability to judge matters in cultural and interpersonal context.

As stewards of humanistic scholarship, we are in a position to share our knowledge of our fields, their condition, current directions, and value to students and to global society. To sustain the centrality of humanistic studies in one of our nation’s greatest assets—our private and public system of higher education—we offer our support to colleges and universities seeking the best path forward in difficult times.

Joy Connolly
American Council of Learned Societies

William C. Kirby
Chair, Board of Directors American Council of Learned Societies

David Oxtoby
American Academy of Arts and Sciences

Richard Ekman
Council of Independent Colleges

Anthony W. Marx
The New York Public Library

Lynn Pasquerella
Association of American Colleges and Universities

Sara Guyer
Consortium of Humanities Centers and Institutes

Mary Miller
Getty Research Institute

David Scobey
Bringing Theory to Practice

Robert M. Hauser
Executive Officer American Philosophical Society

Robert D. Newman
President and Director National Humanities Center

Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers at the New York Public Library

Institute for Advanced Study

The Phi Beta Kappa Society

Federation of State Humanities Councils

National Humanities Alliance

Social Science Research Council

African Studies Association

American Society of International Law

Medieval Academy of America

American Academy of Religion

American Sociological Association

Middle East Studies Association of North America

American Anthropological Association

American Studies Association

Modern Language Association of America

American Folklore Society

Archaeological Institute of America

National Communication Association

American Historical Association

Association for Asian Studies

National Council on Public History

American Oriental Society

Association for Jewish Studies

Renaissance Society of America

American Philosophical Association

Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies

Rhetoric Society of America

American Political Science Association

College Art Association

Shakespeare Association of America

American Schools of Oriental Research

College Forum of the National Council of Teachers of English

Sixteenth Century Society and Conference

American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies

German Studies Association

Society for Classical Studies

American Society for Environmental History

Hispanic Society of America

Society for Ethnomusicology

American Society for Theatre Research

International Center of Medieval Art

Society for French Historical Studies

American Society of Comparative Law

Latin American Studies Association

Society of Architectural Historians

Signatories as of August 12, 2020

Linguistic Society of America

Society of Biblical Literature