NEH Faces Viral Furor Over Unconfirmed Report

April 12, 2010

The National Endowment for the Humanities faced a storm of online criticism this weekend over a report -- first posted on the Feminist Philosophers blog -- about how a grant recipient reportedly was treated. The report said that the woman, a single mother, indicated to the NEH that she wanted to bring her son with her to the European city where an NEH financed seminar will take place. She was told, according to the blog item, that she had 12 hours to “demonstrate that she has full-time child-care arrangements for her son" and that failure to get these arrangements approved would result in her losing her spot in the program. The readers of the blog were outraged and posted comments calling the NEH's conduct "outrageous," illegal, sexist and more. Some readers suggested that word be spread about the situation, and it promptly turned up on Facebook and at other blog sites, again drawing outrage. While some bloggers noted their lack of direct knowledge of the situation, more criticism was heaped on the endowment.

A spokeswoman for the NEH said that efforts over the weekend to identify which recipient was involved -- to figure out exactly what was said and why -- were not successful. The spokeswoman said that the endowment would never ask mothers or fathers about child care in the way described -- and that the NEH works hard to make sure its programs are open to all. In some cases, she said, someone running a program might give a tight deadline to a grant recipient to indicate whether he or she would be attending a program, so that alternates may be offered the place if someone isn't able to attend. The spokeswoman said that, lacking all the facts, there were limits on what she could say -- but that the facts, as described in the blog posts, were not consistent with NEH policies.

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