This is in response to requests for additional information about the fractured relationship between the NEH and Humanities Iowa. As you can imagine, this situation has generated a voluminous file, both in Washington, DC, and in HI’s office. In posting this, my HI colleagues and I seek to be responsive to those seeking more information, while simultaneously being succinct (always a challenge in such matters), fair to the extent possible, and transparent.
Of course, it’s difficult to present the NEH perspective, which HI disagrees with vehemently. However, in one paragraph, this is their charge against HI, (an excerpt from correspondence between Michael McDonald, J.D., Ph.D, General Counsel, NEH, to The Honorable Steven T. Mnuchin, Secretary of the Treasury, sent in early August, 2020): “NEH’s Division of Federal/State Partnership had several core concerns about HI. They included the executive director’s unprofessional conduct toward NEH staff, the executive director’s and the HI Board’s false and incomplete statements on Internal Revenue Service 990 forms, HI’s lack of internal controls, its lack of corrective action in multiple performance areas, a decline in HI’s humanities grant making to the citizens of Iowa, and the failure of the HI Board to fulfill its fiduciary duties in key areas of governance.”
In response, Humanities Iowa released the following statement, also in early August:
“The Board of Directors of Humanities Iowa is deeply saddened and profoundly disappointed that the National Endowment for the Humanities has announced its intention to cut its ties with the longstanding Iowa cultural organization that has supported public programs dedicated to inclusion, equity, and the spectrum of cultural heritages in our state. Humanities Iowa has consistently sought to address any issues the NEH communicated as concerns, and the Board of Directors disputes the veracity of statements in the chairman’s letter that claim otherwise.
NEH’s most recent site visit cited Humanities Iowa’s excellent performance, as did the NEH’s 2017 interim report. As the NEH presented new information to the Board in recent months, the Board responded quickly. It has undertaken actions to improve its strategies for communicating programming and fundraising successes to the NEH, to institute additional layers of review for fiscal and oversight responsibilities, and to strengthen board and staff training and development.
It was the understanding of Humanities Iowa that meeting goals set by the NEH would ensure that collaboration and funding would continue. However, in an unexpected move, and despite Humanities Iowa’s efforts to address NEH concerns, the chairman of the NEH, Jon Peede, chose to defund Humanities Iowa altogether and remove its designation as an official state humanities council. Within hours of notifying Humanities Iowa of this decision and before even delivering written confirmation to the Board of Directors, the chairman called an emergency meeting of executive directors of other state councils to make a public announcement.
Humanities Iowa was not allowed representation at the NEH advisory council meeting that informed the chairman’s decision, nor at the executive directors’ meeting. The Board of Directors is disappointed that not only did the NEH not grant a request for additional time to allow further dialogue and collaborative problem-solving, the all-volunteer board was not given time to file an appeal or even hold a meeting before public release of the chairman’s decision.
The Humanities Iowa Board disputes the accuracy and veracity of significant statements in the chairman’s letter, including those alleging fiscal mismanagement. Furthermore, the Board challenges any underlying assumption that Humanities Iowa has not satisfied federal reporting requirements. Humanities Iowa has undertaken thorough, regular audits and reviews, works closely with an auditing firm, and has received excellent reports on its financial standing and management. To demonstrate its commitment to transparency, Humanities Iowa has repeatedly submitted detailed information about the organization’s operations, going well beyond requirements set by the NEH.
When the NEH questioned the handling of a particular tax form without initially providing specifics about the issue, Humanities Iowa diligently pursued clarity about the NEH’s concerns. Initial audits and reviews did not find errors, and there were no concerns expressed by the IRS. However, once the NEH finally, after repeated petitions for clarity, articulated the specific request for additional (and optional) reporting of salaries on one of the forms, Humanities Iowa hired professional auditors to complete and submit updated documents. Humanities Iowa has also consistently provided the NEH with regular, detailed reports on its programming, grant-making, and other extensive efforts to provide high- quality humanities programs and services to the people of Iowa.
Humanities Iowa is proud of its history of community collaborations, educational partnerships, and cultural programs. For example, in recent years the organization has supported a remarkable series of projects, including community Tolerance Weeks, multi-generational storytelling projects for women in traditionally silenced populations, veterans’ storytelling projects, reading series and author events, museum exhibits and programming, historical documentaries, the state’s new Telepoem Booth, Iowa Poet Laureate programming, the Speakers Bureau, and many other significant, memorable initiatives and events.
The Board of Directors is in ongoing conversation about the future of the organization and how best to ensure continuation of Humanities Iowa’s vitally important work with and for the people of Iowa."
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In response to specific questions about HI staff, Dr. Chris Rossi, who has served as Executive Director of Humanities Iowa for many years, is no longer carrying out these duties. If you seek more information about Humanities Iowa or wish to respond to this information, you may communicate with me directly at my personal email address: firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you for your interest in Humanities Iowa.
President, Humanities Iowa