Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences

Early Findings from the Arts, Humanities, and Social Science Research Focus Groups

In coordination with the CLAS Research/Creative Work Continuity and Advancement committee, the Office of the Vice President for Research facilitated five focus groups in May 2020 to elicit feedback about research challenges for artists, humanities scholars, and social scientists.  Three sessions were focused on arts, humanities and social science disciplines; one session explored interdisciplinary obstacles and opportunities; and the final session will focus on library and museum operations in the wake of COVID.

Humanities Guidance

While many problems are specific to disciplines, we heard a number of shared concerns across all of the focus groups, and we suspect many of these issues are relevant to the entire campus so we include them here. Also, faculty members expressed great appreciation for these focus groups and the opportunity to be part of the problem-solving process. We hope versions of the focus groups can continue. Faculty were also grateful to learn about each other’s work and repeatedly commented on how helpful cross-disciplinary discussion of needs and solutions is.

  • Caretaking responsibilities at home (for older adults and for children) is completely swamping many researchers. This work falls disproportionately on women, as evidenced by recent articles documenting the fall in article submissions by women to journals).
  • Health and mental health issues need to be supported along with pragmatic needs.
  • Uncertainty about the fall teaching plans are unsettling, but also mean many will be spending a lot of time this summer planning various teaching scenarios rather than focusing on research. Providing short workshops that tie pedagogy to digital tools and practices would help. So would providing student assistance to help with setting up and exploiting resources of ICON, transcribing of lectures, etc.
  • Faculty are not only having to relearn how to teach but to teach TAs how to teach online.
  • People are very concerned about more vulnerable colleagues—including staff members and instructors and researchers not protected by tenure. They worry about their livelihoods and about the ways losing their contributions will jeopardize the research mission by asking more service and administration of faculty.
  • Faculty are also deeply concerned about interrupting the research and funding for graduate students and postdocs.
  • Service needs have snowballed as faculty find themselves on constant Zoom meetings responding to the crisis.
  • While all valued the option to move back tenure clocks by a year, they generally agreed that recovering research from this ongoing problem could affect the pace and nature of work for years to come. We need to rethink what we’re counting, why, and how. Specifically, many faculty said this is a wakeup call to rethink in departments and at the college level what matters and how to reward what matters in the T&P process.
  • We heard a new openness to cross-disciplinary collaboration (dance faculty might work with statisticians to design and perform far more impactful 3-D infographics, philosophers in ethics might work with health care teams to develop health care protocols, literature and language faculty and students could help with translation of health care materials and by providing historical context and narrative strategies for explaining the medical issues and inspiring greater public collaboration, religious studies faculty look at the ways health and cultural practices intersect, faculty from Gender, Women’s, and Sexuality Studies are experts in thinking about the intersectional forces including not only gender but race, economics, cultural practices, etc. shape behavior and the possibilities for cultural change). How could we facilitate researchers’ learning about each other’s work over the summer?
  • There is also an openness to other kinds of change—ways to enhance the quality of teaching that involve doing less instead of more, ways to cut bureaucracy, etc.
  • The end to conferences means junior faculty aren’t meeting colleagues, senior scholars, sharing work.
  • There has been a significant slowdown in peer review as everyone adapts to online teaching, etc.
  • Many people are second guessing the value of their work—seeking ways to use the arts and humanities in more applied ways to address the pandemic, environmental issues, social inequities.
  • Strong sense that support for interdisciplinary work is NOT backed up with departmental and collegiate support during moments of review.
  • Personal Protective Equipment is an issue across all disciplines
  • Serious questions about how the new conditions of work may push us to change what being an R1 means.

  • Dancers, choreographers, playwrights, directors, actors, scene and costume designers and other performing artists focus on live, collaborative creation and performance
  • Their loss of performance spaces is analogous to the loss of labs except there is little hope of any conditions that will allow them to return in the near future
  • Artists are evaluated on performance in a public space or on exhibition of works in a public gallery
  • Many are working heroically to create new forms, new conditions of work, and new audiences
  • Challenges—
    • Getting computers and technology to each separate person in a separate space
    • Spending so much time on reinventing an entire practice vs creating new art
    • Worrying that what they accomplish will be evaluated by senior colleagues deeply committed to live performance
    • Perception that creative work that “counts” for promotion and tenure must happen elsewhere
    • All online work must be close captioned—a significant cost
    • Audience expectation is that online delivery of art is free; revenue from ticket sales cannot be captured online.
    • Cultural arts fees revenue declining along with tuition revenue
    • Graduate students can’t complete basic requirements for courses, fellowships, etc.
  • How can we help?
    • Provide financial support for technology (computers in multiple spaces, webcams, etc.)
    • Funds and student assistance for close captioning
    • Provide training in technologies and emerging platforms to support virtual performance
    • Create plans for limited, distributed use of specialized studio spaces and equipment in collaboration with the faculty
    • Help faculty design creative ways to use spaces safely for performances—for example, outdoors, with much improved ventilation
    • Consider incentive funds and clarity about “counting” the creative work involved in using approaching the spacing of performances and audiences as part of the creative process and the performance itself

  • Many art history, classics, film, history, literature, language, religious studies, and philosophy scholars work with rare and unique primary materials in undigitized archives around the world that are now totally inaccessible
  • Many anthropology, archaeology, education, gender studies, human and computer interaction, and sociology researchers work closely with research subjects and international dig sites, in communities around Iowa, and in school settings in Iowa, the US, the world, and in their labs: the people they study or with whom they collaborate are inaccessible to them now.
  • A number of faculty have research materials in their offices (in heavy file cabinets, etc. that can’t be moved)
  • The inability of scholars to devote time to reviewing journal articles and book manuscripts and to spend time doing external promotion reviews for other universities will have a long term impact
  • If university presses are cut, the means of publishing monographs is too
  • In the humanities, many graduate students have significant teaching responsibilities in the General Education curriculum that are usurping their research time, too
  • How can we help?
    • Could some unused travel funds support digitization of library materials?
    • Can unused CDA and research funds be rolled over for future travel to archives?
    • Can we schedule times for faculty members to work in their offices over the summer, perhaps on a rotating basis?

This is a huge and often overlooked impact of COVID-19, especially in colleges with large numbers of undergraduates. 

  • All these fields rely heavily on summers and on Career Development Awards—time away from teaching—to do research.
    • Most were unable to achieve research plans this spring because they can’t travel to research sites.
    • Many found themselves handling childcare, home schooling, long distance parent care, dealing with living alone.
    • Most find the recent and current state of uncertainty about fall teaching a major impediment to focusing on research.
  • Faculty are not only having to relearn how to teach but to teach TAs how to teach online
  • There has been a significant slowdown in peer review as everyone adapts to online teaching, etc.
  • Many people are second guessing the value of their work—seeking ways to use the arts and humanities in more applied ways to address the pandemic, environmental issues, social inequities
  • Strong sense that support for interdisciplinary work is NOT backed up with departmental and collegiate support during moments of review
  • Childcare needs and health challenges (like migraines) of shifting online
  • Personal Protective Equipment is an issue across all disciplines
  • Serious questions about how the new conditions of work may push us to change what being an R1 means
  • How Can We Help?
  • Create “one button” studios (like those in the library) for recording podcasts and lectures
  • Bring back the brilliant SITA program that was disbanded—in which students were trained in both pedagogy and technology and assisted faculty members in integrating technology in meaningful ways  

Instructional Track Faculty—need to be included in our plans for their own sakes and because losing them will escalate teaching for TT faculty and detract from the research mission.

  • Virtual research support groups to stay on task this summer
  • Help faculty rethink conferences, explore new platforms for networking and sharing scholarship
  • Online workshops to share best practices in teaching with technology.  (Spring online teaching was done in emergency mode, online teaching going forward needs to be more thoughtfully designed.)
  • Provide brief, smart online summer workshops on digital pedagogy and classroom tools.
  • Provide student support (especially SITA program) to assist faculty with course design this summer.
  • Leadership both from administrators and within departments to grasp what we’re learning, what we can let go of, what we can do differently, and how we’re going to evaluate people’s work, experiments, invention, risk-taking, and process.
  • Find ways to feature, incentivize, and reward exciting experiments (Kate Gfeller writing an article WITH 6 of her patients, Fred Smith shifting from being a volunteer board director to a North Indian hospice to considering how he as a Sanskrit scholar can integrate that powerfully meaningful work into his academic practice).
  • Initiate conversations in departments about forms of work and review practices over the coming years given how long the impact is likely to continue.
  • Continue to be flexible regarding expectations and deadlines related to Old Gold Fellowships, Career Development Awards, Arts and Humanities Initiative grants.