My name is Ray Haberski and I direct the American Studies doctoral program at IUPUI. What follows is a brief talk I gave about the PhD program at a CUNY sponsored event on innovations in graduate study.

I developed the program four years ago to be an applied PhD, which means we recruit and train students for careers outside of academia by connecting them with research centers on campus and organizations off campus. Both help fund students

The program now has 21 students and two recent graduates; half are part-time and most are mid-career; one-third are people of color and half are women. Their research interests run from medical ethics and public education to environmental racism and equitable urban development. Most enter with at least a master’s degree; they expect to finish in under five years, even going part-time.

I spend a lot of my time hustling to get sponsorships for tracks and that entails making partnerships with non-profits and the chamber of commerce; municipal corporations and national foundations.

I do this because I think liberal arts students should operate like their counterparts who get funding to research diseases and new tech gadgets. And I don’t think our students should take on debt like those in law, business, and medicine who bargain that their high salaries will help them in the long run.

But the main reason I seek funding for our students is to demonstrate that the liberal arts is a public good—it advances community-oriented problem solving. Students take courses in content and methods from anthropologists, sociologists, political scientists, historians, economists, and ethicists. And they help a variety of constituents, such as

  • The Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce
  • The New America Foundation and Brookings Institute
  • The Indianapolis Arts Council
  • Public health agencies and city government
  • Non-profits for educators and schools
  • And religious organizations

They can create plans for:

  • Local governments who want to identify and contend with toxic heritage sites
  • Parks departments that want to alleviate environmental racism
  • Chambers of commerce that need to sell transportation plans to advance workforce development
  • Real estate organizations that understand they need to repair damage done from red-lining
  • And, art museums who realize just how imperative it is to be inclusive and not racist

We need investment in liberal arts for the public. We need to push the idea that because the mission of the liberal arts is to produce research that benefits the public good, leaders among the public can help us advance that mission.

My biggest frustration is the same thing as my greatest satisfaction—every time a get a new organization to fund students my sense of accomplishment is simultaneously dampened by the need to find more investors.

We need a structure that exists in between state appropriations and piecemeal philanthropy. Something like a United Way for liberal arts graduate programs.

Organizations exist in my own city to advance “innovation” (meaning technology) and bio-sciences. Such entities are trumpeted as significant for the future, but we need something that accounts for problems of the past that, of course, continue to create serious issues for the present and future.

Where is the innovation park for the liberal arts? It exists in our universities and needs funding to better serve the public.