TU Professor Defends Program Senator Coburn Calls Wasteful

Wednesday, October 17th 2012, 7:38 pm
By: News On 6

The University of Tulsa is defending a grant project after Senator Tom Coburn called it out in his annual wasteful spending report.

Coburn said the government shouldn't pay TU for something that's free online.

The program director explained why the work is so important.

The University of Tulsa is working on the Modernist Journals Project and received a federal grant to digitally archive turn of the century periodicals.

It may sound like a giant scanning job, but it's much more than that.

Hidden on shelves most University of Tulsa students rarely see, are periodicals almost 100 years old.

Some of these magazines are literally crumbling to pieces. That's why TU's Dr. Sean Latham has been part of an 11-year project to digitize the documents for research and educational use.

"They're meant to be disposable. The paper is very thin and degrades very quickly, so many of these things, we are literally saving from the brink of destruction," Latham said.

Latham's staff and a group at Brown University jointly received a $270,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities for the project.

But Oklahoma Republican Senator Tom Coburn calls the project a waste of money.

10/16/2012 Related Story: Sen. Coburn Releases $18 Billion Waste Report

It's number 79 out of 100 government expenses Coburn said are unnecessary, because the magazines are already available on the Internet.

"None of those are complete and more significantly, most of the ones you find online are missing massive amounts of their content," Latham said.

Most of that content is advertising, but Latham says advertising started in the early 20th Century and is just as valuable to study as the articles.

Latham's staff locates and buys the magazines from libraries, scholars and rare book collectors around the world.

Once they're scanned, the real work begins.

The staff must code each page, so you can search it for key words and names.

"It's a very carefully vetted kind of work and highly valued by the academy," Latham said.

Latham said the project allows TU to recruit students from all over the world to study Humanities and brings in visitors from 153 countries.

"I hope that Senator Coburn and others would see the real value that we're trying to bring," Latham said.

Latham said the $270,000 federal grant only pays for the staff to work on the project.

The University of Tulsa must commit to pay for at least half of the total cost in order to even get the grant.