To the Editors:
Colleen Flaherty’s September 20, 2022, article, “Ford Foundation Ends Fellowship Program”, on the sunsetting of the Ford Foundation Fellowship Program, presented important context about this long-running program’s effectiveness in diversifying the ranks of PhD-level scholars in higher education and the increasing challenges to funding this work.
Flaherty rightly highlights the need for new thinking and action in terms of funding models while recognizing the potential of scholars and scholarship to promote positive social transformation.
Her depiction of the ending of the Mellon-funded, American Council of Learned Societies-administered Dissertation Completion Fellowship program, however, overlooks the support Mellon and ACLS continue to provide doctoral students and early-career scholars, including those representing diverse backgrounds, fields of study, and institutions in the humanities and interpretive social sciences.
For sixteen years (2006-2022) the Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowship program provided more than 1,000 doctoral students with resources and a support network designed to help them complete their dissertations by giving them time to focus solely on their research, freed from mounting teaching and administrative responsibilities. We are proud of the accomplishments of this program, which has provided important lessons and insights that we have applied to our ongoing commitment to diversifying the academy and supporting scholars who have traditionally been underserved by it.
ACLS is also excited to continue our partnership with Mellon. Earlier this year we introduced the Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Innovation program, which especially welcomes applications from PhD candidates whose perspectives and/or research projects cultivate greater openness to new sources of knowledge, innovation in scholarly communication, and, above all, responsiveness to the interests and histories of people of color and other historically marginalized communities. The program aims to reward doctoral students demonstrating promise of leading their fields in important new directions. Providing an early-stage intervention at the formative stage of the development of the dissertation, before writing is far advanced, the program will enable fellows to develop innovative approaches to dissertation research—publicly engaged, trans- or interdisciplinary, collaborative, critical, or methodological. They will join a peer network of like-minded scholars and receive expert mentoring and professional development.
News of the discontinuation of long-standing resources for doctoral students will disappoint many, as there is no shortage of need for support, in particular among communities of color who have long been marginalized in higher education. At the same time, we look forward to offering ACLS fellowship and grant programs intended to usher in what we see as a new academy that welcomes a more diverse professoriate and a wide range of fields of study and approaches to scholarship—key elements to the continued advancement of humanistic knowledge.
American Council of Learned Societies