Humanities Out There Struggling

Humanities Out There (HOT), an outreach program that promotes literacy and encourages high school students to attend college, is in jeopardy due to UC Irvine’s current budget shortfall.

The program will be forced to shrink this year after it was not awarded a $60,000 grant from the Department of Education in 2008. Although the program has the funds to continue through the current academic year, its future is uncertain.

HOT’s budget is provided through the Dean of the School of Humanities, with matched contributions from the Dean of the Graduate Division. Recently, however, the Dean of the Graduate Division informed HOT administrators that next year a matched contribution will no longer be possible.

According to HOT program director Lynn Mally, this cut will make the program impossible unless government grants or an increased contribution from the Dean of the School of Humanities can be obtained.

HOT relies on legions of undergraduates who volunteer their time each year to teach courses in subjects including literature, US History and World History. These undergraduates are trained in workshops run by graduate students. These undergraduate instructors are sent to high schools in low income areas, where they introduce a curriculum that simultaneously covers California content standards – topic standards which all schools must cover and contains elements of college-level work, such as greater freedom and creativity in assignments.

According to Mally, the introduction of college coursework into the curriculum is part of the program’s mission to encourage larger numbers of low income students to apply to college.

When UCI English professor Julia Lupton founded the program in 1997, it was partly an effort by the university to increase the enrollment of minority students through means other than affirmative action after the passage of Proposition 209, which banned the practice in 1996. It was also an effort to provide a humanities outreach program comparable to Arts Bridge, a program which brought arts to public schools that had entirely cut arts from their offerings due to budgetary issues.

Funding which once came from sources such as the UC Office of the President and UCI’s Center for Educational Partnerships has been eroded by budget crises over the years, resulting in a dramatically smaller size for the program.

At its height, the program could hire 12 workshop leaders for three quarters a year every year. Today, only six graduate students remain on staff, and workshops are offered only in fall and winter quarters.

Lupton expressed the difficulty of creating stability in the future of the program when outside sources are relied upon for funds. “The university needs to say, ‘this is our program and we’re going to keep it going by committing certain kinds of basic resources to it, ’” Lupton said.

Nonetheless, Mally said that the program has managed to produce great benefits for all those involved.

“I think it’s been a really successful program,” Mally said. “It has inspired high school teachers, and it’s really fun and rewarding for the undergraduates involved.”

Lupton said that service programs such as HOT should not be seen as excess outreach programs, but rather as important elements in student education.

“If you say that this is important and no undergraduate should leave UCI without having a service learning opportunity then maybe this looks less frivolous,” Lupton said.