Ferris’ future with NEH in your hands

Published 12:00 am Thursday, April 26, 2001

Mississippian and Southerner Bill Ferris for many years has made his home state proud.

Ferris is chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, appointed by President Bill Clinton to that prestigious position. He left a post he loved at the Center for the Study of Southern Culture at Ole Miss to take the Washington, D.C., post a few years ago.

Now some political observers believe Ferris’ position may be in jeopardy, and a letter-writing campaign is under way to let President Bush know how many people support what Ferris has done.

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There are many levels on which he has made his mark on the NEH, but one that few may know about is his emphasis on bringing community colleges into the NEH family, attempting to get a fair share of NEH funding for their public programs.

One of the forces behind the letter-writing campaign is in fact led by some community college folks on the national level.

Ferris organized the first-ever NEH-sponsored event to explore roles of community colleges in America. He makes it clear that he finds schools such as our own Copiah-Lincoln Community College to be vital to the nation’s future.

In a speech Ferris delivered last month, he spoke of changes that have occurred since the first public community college opened in Joliet, Ill., 100 years ago. His facts and figures give us food for thought.

Changes in America are sure to change the country’s 1,132 two-year schools, he said. And the student population, which includes 45 percent of U.S. men and women in higher education, is certain to grow and change in years to come.

What are some of those changes Ferris sees? The most significant will be in the growth of minority populations, he has said. Here are some of the statistics he provided for the audience:

During the next 50 years, America will gain about 131 million people, and 90 percent of those will be in groups referred to as &uot;minority.&uot; The African-American population will increase by 83 percent; the Native Americans by 95 percent; the Hispanics by 258 percent; and the Asian-Americans by 267 percent.

The changes, Ferris says, will provide great challenges to a country that takes pride in its rich diversity. For community colleges, the challenge includes finding ways to educate the new generations of all races and backgrounds not only to find &uot;jobs&uot; but also to become &uot;full participants in the cultural and social lives of their country.&uot;

The chairman of the NEH and one who has spent his adult years studying the humanities is asking community colleges not to abandon history, literature and philosophy in their quests to provide the workforces required by businesses and industry.

Ferris pointed out the dual nature of the early 21st-century revolution in America, which is at once both technical and cultural. &uot;Both revolutions offer us incredible opportunity,&uot; he said.

If you know about Ferris’ past work, especially in Southern studies; his efforts at NEH to date; and the dreams he has to make the NEH belong to all the people not just the elite of the arts and humanities world, let your voice be heard.

Write to President Bush at The White House, 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington, D.C. 20500; and write to senators and congressmen, too.

Joan Gandy is special projects director at The Democrat. She can be reached at (601) 445-3549 or by e-mail at joan.gandy@natchezdemocrat.com.