A letter to Jim Leach

We have followed the story of Professor Penelope Blake and the program on the Pacific theater in World War II in a series of posts beginning with “Investigate this” (the letter to Rep. Manzullo that is referred to below is in that post). The program in issue was funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, of which Jim Leach is the chairman. Yesterday Professor Blake wrote Leach as follows:

Dear Chairman Leach:
I am writing to inquire whether the NEH has taken any meaningful action in response to the concerns I documented in my letter to Congressman Manzullo and the NEH regarding the conference on the Pacific War held at the East-West Center in Hawaii in August 2010. For your reference, a copy of the letter is attached to this communication.
According to NEH funding guidelines, NEH grants may not be used for “projects that seek to promote a particular political, philosophical, religious or ideological point of view.” In October 2010, you received in my letter a list of documented violations of these guidelines which occurred at the conference, including a politically-biased, revisionist agenda nearly devoid of rhetorical balance and historical context for the arguments presented. Specifically, what I experienced at the East-West Center Conference was a sustained attack on the U.S. military, American valor and the symbols which commemorate it, and World War II veterans.
Given the fact that the East-West Center has suspended future Pacific War conferences pending an investigation of the conference I attended, I would expect that the NEH would examine its own role in approving and funding a conference which clearly violated NEH guidelines. While the East-West Center action is appropriate and commendable, until the NEH addresses its own faulty review process, future conferences which seek to further specific political or social agendas will be funded. Indeed, I believe the NEH continues to support the East-West Center with two additional grants.
If the NEH is conducting an investigation of the issues, why have I not been contacted? And why has no effort been made to obtain the recordings of the proceedings? Dr. Geoffrey White of the East-West Center officially stated that no such recordings exist. I know for a fact that they do exist, and they would support what I have documented in my initial letter and establish that I voiced my concerns during the conference as well as after.
In November 2010, I received a letter from you which essentially dismissed my report by claiming that this is a freedom of speech issue and observing that most of the other participants responded favorably to the conference. As I stated at the time, neither point addresses the real issue at hand: whether the NEH should be permitted to support, with American tax dollars, a biased, agenda-based conference, no matter how well-received the conference may be. To date, you have yet to acknowledge publicly that what occurred at the East-West Center conference was an indisputable violation of the NEH funding guidelines, nor have you addressed the process within the NEH which made this violation possible.
The overwhelming number of emails and phone calls I have received in the past three months strongly suggests to me that many thoughtful Americans have lost faith in the NEH. Congress, it appears, has taken heed of this message and targeted the NEH for possible reduction or elimination of its funding. I think you and I both agree that this would be a highly regrettable outcome and all the more reason why the present moment offers a wonderful opportunity for you to demonstrate to the larger public the NEH’s enduring commitment to its own guidelines and stated objectives. I am urging you, once again, to seize that opportunity.
My experience last summer in Hawaii, and in the months since, indicates that significant reforms are needed if NEH is to be an organization that, according to its mission statement, “serves and strengthens our Republic by promoting excellence in the humanities and conveying the lessons of history to all Americans.” Proactive steps need to be taken if the public’s confidence in NEH is to be restored. If I may be of any assistance in this endeavor, do not hesitate to contact me.
Sincerely,
Penelope A. Blake, Ph.D.
C: Congressman Darrell Issa, Congressman Mike Simpson, Senator Tom Coburn, Senator Mike Enzi

As we have documented repeatedly, NEH is rotting from the head down. The politicization of the agency by Chairman Jim Leach itself makes out a case for its elimination. We hope to stay on this story along with Professor Blake.

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