William D. Adams, the tenth chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, announced today that he is stepping down so that he can pursue scholarship opportunities and spend more time with his family in Falmouth, Maine. Nominated by former president Barack Obama in April 2014, Adams was confirmed by the United States Senate three months later. Deputy chair Margaret Plympton will serve as acting chair.
“Leading this important organization has been one of the most exciting and gratifying experiences of my life,” Adams said. “I’m especially appreciative of the excellent and dedicated staff of the agency, who taught me so much about the importance of the humanities and the innovative and meaningful work that is going on at NEH and across the country.”
Shortly after arriving at the agency from Colby College, where he served as president for fourteen years, Adams launched a special initiative called “Common Good: The Humanities in the Public Square,” which seeks to demonstrate the relevance of the humanities to the challenges of contemporary life. “We wanted to show how important the humanities are to the really big questions that we’re grappling with as a country and indeed as a global community,” Adams said. “In these divided political times, we also wanted to remind people of the idea of the common good and to make clear how the humanities might serve to bring citizens together in advancing the general welfare of the country.”
In addition, the agency launched a number of new grant lines, including the Public Scholar program, the NEH-Mellon Fellowships for Digital Publication, Common Heritage, Humanities in the Public Square, Next Generation Humanities Ph.D. Grants, the Humanities Open Book Program, Creating Humanities Communities, Humanities Access Grants, and Community Conversations. Common Good also serves as the umbrella for Standing Together, the NEH’s program supporting veterans and public understanding of military service and the legacies of war and conflict. Adams also led the preparations for the celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the NEH and spoke at numerous anniversary events around the country, including the Human/Ties conference at the University of Virginia and Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello in September 2016.
Adams’s announcement follows President Trump’s proposal to eliminate the NEA and the NEH. However, Congress voted in favor of funding the agencies for the remainder of the 2017 fiscal year, and even granted the NEH a $2 million financial boost. Trump is expected to release the 2018 federal budget on Tuesday, May 23.