Q&A: Dean David Schaberg on Humanities Advocacy Day

From left: Humanities Dean David Schaberg, Vice Provost C. Cindy Fan, Congressman Ted W. Lieu, Dean Eileen Strempel and Vice Chancellor Roger Wakimoto

Ashley Fumiko Dominguez

From left: Humanities Dean David Schaberg, Vice Provost C. Cindy Fan, Congressman Ted W. Lieu, Dean Eileen Strempel and Vice Chancellor Roger Wakimoto.

Anushka Chakrabarti | May 13, 2022

We interviewed David Schaberg, dean of the Division of Humanities, about his recent trip to Capitol Hill for Humanities Advocacy Day, where state-based delegations meet with members of Congress and their staff to make the case for federal funding for the humanities. The annual event is organized by the National Humanities Alliance, a coalition of over 200 member organizations including universities, cultural institutions and more.

How was your Humanities Advocacy Day experience? 

Schaberg: This year’s visit was pretty high-powered advocacy. The group was led by Vice Chancellor Roger Wakimoto, who was there to represent UCLA in its overall engagement in research and creative activities; Dean Eileen Strempel from the Herb Alpert School of Music, who was there representing the arts and one area of her own research, transfer students and college access; and then Cindy Fan, the vice provost at the International Institute, who was there to talk about UCLA’s international education and research connections.  

So really a cohort and phalanx of UCLA administrators — and, of course, we did as many Capitol Hill visits as we could. We visited the Department of Defense to talk about our Russian Flagship Program on campus, something that’s very important to them right now for obvious reasons. We visited the National Science Foundation and talked with one of the leaders there. Much of our research funding comes from the NSF; even in the humanities, we have funding for linguistics research that comes from the NSF. We also visited the Department of Education, among others.  

What were some of the highlights? 

I always say the conversations with the members of Congress are highlights. I would mention conversations with Ted Lieu, with Mark Takano, and with Ken Calvert. They’re thinking, they’re engaging; it’s really striking that they had time to engage with us, and it was also a sign of respect for UCLA. 

I would also say that the conversations were remarkable for the way that they focused on the practical possibilities and challenges to certain kinds of international connections. Legislators were notably interested in the way that UCLA, as a home for research, facilitates connections between the United States and the rest of the world. 

What did it feel like bringing a humanities perspective to these conversations? 

Well, it’s always enjoyable. This is one of those places where you can make your best arguments for the crucial role of the humanities in American life, in a college education, and in the preparation of any student for an international career.  

More than anything, these conversations were about preparing young Americans to live successfully, triumphantly, in the international or the global scene — and that’s exciting. For me, the joy of talking about the ideals of what education can do, and how we’re going to attain that, is just really palpable, and I think I speak for my fellow travelers as well. 

What do you hope the impact of this trip will be? 

The immediate goal — the understood, common goal for this kind of thing — has to be to increase the visibility of UCLA for federal funding agencies, and to increase the amount of federal funding. And that’s not just about looking out for UCLA; that’s actually looking out for the common good. We’ve got a platform here that can do even more than it’s already doing. Fund us, understand us, help us do it right — meanwhile, we’ll be working on it, we’ll be passing ideas back to Washington.  

So my hope for an outcome would be that next year a similar visit takes place with similar effects in raising the visibility of UCLA as a place where the federal government can find good partners for the work that it needs to get done.