April 8, 2004  
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Shakespeare versus science

By Dan Perry
Gazette Staff

Social science and humanities research is often thought to get the short end of the funding stick; after all, new findings about James Joyce won’t cure cancer. But the alleged discrepancy between available financial support for technological research and that for arts and humanities research may be misleading.

“We usually need less money,” said Western history professor Jonathan Vance. “[Funding] is never going to be the same as [that for] science, but we operate on a different baseline.”
According to Western English professor David Bentley (who was recently awarded the Hellmuth prize), the needs of humanities researchers are not the same as those of science and technology researchers.

“A lot of research done in arts and social sciences is not very expensive to conduct; what we need is a little bit of equipment, a research assistant, perhaps some time off from a course to write a book,” he said.

But the director of Western’s Centre for the Study of Theory and Criticism and modern languages and literature professor, Calin-Andrei Mihailescu, suggested there is a rift between sciences and humanities research.

“Arts are not seen as the movers and shakers of the world — technology is,” he said. “The essence of technology is not to produce something, but to reproduce itself. Technology money will breed money.

“Every single discipline, including technology, is very narcissistic: it looks at itself and at the future, and is going to sponsor whatever it can to reproduce itself in the future,” he added. “There is a productive, and not so much a reproductive, purpose in the humanities in some cases.”

Mihailescu, who also edits and publishes Literary Research, the International Comparative Literature Association’s journal, explained the impact of this journal has had on research at Western.

“It put comparative literature on the map at Western, and Western on the map of comparative literature. It’s been good business — we now have a master’s and PhD program in comparative literature,” he said.

“This is where the university takes credit,” Mihailescu said, noting there is very little “hard evidence” of support for faculty members’ research. “And by hard evidence, I mean cash.”
Bentley noted that the disproportion in funding is not as significant as it appears on the surface, but noted it is not problem-free.

“Relative to the medicine and natural sciences or engineering, the amount of money given to [the Social Science and Humanities Research Council] is relatively small — especially in relation to the number of students taking arts and social science courses,” he said. “We are the core teaching faculty at Western.”

One factor that may be working against humanities research is the increasing number of partnerships that have been forming between universities and various industry groups and businesses.

“There’s no question that research is moving toward partnerships with private industry, and it’s hard to fit social sciences and arts into that,” Vance said.

“The government bodies are moving in the same direction: research with applications. That’s maybe a little worrying. I haven’t seen [Western] going that way, but picking up the support of arts and social sciences research. The university realizes the private sector doesn’t support arts and social sciences research,” Vance explained. “If the university continues to step in, we’ll be in a good position.”

2002-2003 Research Revenue Distribution: Undergraduate vs. Graduate

• 2,143 Undergraduate students shared $3,179,856 in research funding
(an average of $1,484 per student)
• 3,518 Graduate students shared $18,290,334 in research funding
(an average of $5,199 per student)
• That’s a difference of $3,715 per student per year more for Graduate research.

Five Year Summary of Research Expenditures by Faculty

Faculty 1998-99 1999-00 2000-01 2001-02 2002-03

Arts 356,783 368,913 403,995 626,270 934,259

Business 2,571,913 1,971,111 2,117,201 1,548,324 2,028,591

Education 90,102 51,971 116,420 234,615 226,911

Engineering 6,825,777 8,138,168 10,519,025 13,080,325 16,639,477

Health Sciences 1,952,433 1,824,694 3,889,388 3,247,146 3,017,121

Info. & Media Studies 163,355 267,862 161,204 97,132 151,135

Law 16,991 41,745 70,918 74,925 100,030

Medicine & Dentistry 61,085,654 60,587,941 72,252,805 86,770,610 85,331,384

Music 51,807 48,631 61,097 91,212 136,808

Science 10,907,591 16,535,343 14,153,306 23,404,245 24,864,732

Social Science 2,897,331 3,664,726 4,483,091 5,370,573 6,799,291

Other 2,557,907 1,897,863 219,155 599,803 436,972

TOTAL 89,477,644 95,398,966 108,447,605 135,145,180 140,666,711
—Pip Scowcroft
—with files from www.uwo.ca/western/westernfacts/wf03/



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