Executive Director's Report 2001

By Arnita A. Jones

Needless to say, 2001 has been a stressful year in many ways. The events of September 11, 2001, have not had nearly the impact on the city of Washington as on New York, of course, but they have been felt. Though the Washington, D.C., office was only closed for part of a day, there was a possibility that the fourth hijacked airliner was headed for the U. S. Capitol, which is only three blocks away. That certainly gave us pause and prompted us to begin implementation of a disaster plan that would provide for regular transfers of critical financial and membership data to the offices of the American Historical Review in Bloomington, Indiana. For some time we have had a plan in place to backup data weekly outside the building at 400 A Street, but in the light of recent events, it seems prudent to expand the existing arrangements.

The closure of National Airport and suspension of air service for several weeks forced us to cancel (and then reschedule by teleconference) the Teaching Division meeting in September but otherwise the disruptions created no major problems for the Association's operations. The anthrax attack on the postal system was another matter, however. AHA's zip code is 20003, just one digit away from several congressional addresses, and much of our mail is normally processed at (the now shut down) Brentwood facility that serves Capitol Hill.

The dislocation in mail delivery seriously impinged upon the balloting for the AHA election. We did not receive ballots for the two-weeks prior to the announced deadline of November 1, 2001, and had to delay counting for several weeks. Along about mid-October we began to receive additional ballots (some of them double postmarked, which we think means they had been through the decontamination process) so that in the end we had a total of 2,940 returns-more than in some recent years, somewhat fewer than in other years. The problems with the postal system also created havoc with our preregistration process for the San Francisco annual meeting. Because of the uncertainties of travel, members were slow in making hotel reservations and returning preregistration forms. This problem was exacerbated by the fact that we had earlier opted not to process registrations online this year-because we knew we were transitioning to a new membership database. By the end of December, however, the four hotels with which we had contracts were sold out, and we ultimately had a healthy attendance at the 2002 meeting. The exhibit hall has been sold out for several months. It is interesting that, while many conventions throughout the country have been cancelled or had greatly reduced attendance, those of professional associations similar to ours have maintained a relatively normal operation this fall.

Headquarters Office

While senior staff at the AHA remains quite stable, we continue to have turnover at the positions closer to entry level. New appointments to the staff include Christian Hale, who is a recent MA recipient from George Mason University and David Darlington, who received an MA in history from the University of Maryland at College Park earlier this year. Sarah Becker, a recent graduate of the University of Colorado, replaced Andrea Robbins in the one of the executive office assistant positions. Pillarisetti Sudhir has been promoted to be the editor of Perspectives.

Health Insurance: Because one of our health carriers, Kaiser Permanente, no longer would provide insurance for small organizations that want to offer plans from more than one company to their employees, we had to make a substantial adjustment to our insurance arrangements. In March, the Finance Committee approved funding for the AHA to join the Washington Council of Agencies. This arrangement allows us to become part of a much larger group for insurance purposes and, most important, allows the AHA to continue offering the same two health plans-Kaiser and Optimum Choice (a major Washington metropolitan area provider)-to which our staff have had access for a number of years.

Physical Plant: Planned repairs to the building at 400 A Street have taken longer than anticipated, due in large part to delays in obtaining necessary permits from the District of Colombia government. Work included pointing of bricks and repair of a wall adjacent to the driveway, replacement of the front entryway, and exterior painting. We anticipate replacement of the exterior steel steps early in the new year, thus completing a badly needed series of repairs.

Finally, a reminder: Upkeep of our building has some cost but is a good investment for the AHA. Townhouses on the same block as ours have sold for nearly $1 million and many of our sister organizations in Washington that do not own property have to spend $100,000 to $200,000 annually on rent.

Finances

Endowment Investments: The Association's investments have been managed-at least since the 1930s-by Fiduciary Trust in New York City, one of the tenants of the south World Trade Tower. Fiduciary Trust has now relocated to midtown Manhattan. The company's backup system allowed them to continue regular reporting to us despite the loss of about one-sixth of their staff and all of their Manhattan workspace.

The value of AHA's investment portfolio declined by 5.78 percent in 2001. That percentage would be greater, however, had we not been able to transfer cash accumulated from operating surpluses over the past few years into our accounts at Fiduciary Trust.

Audit: Changes in the IRS code and other regulations relating to nonprofit organizations implemented during the 1990s made it necessary for the AHA to find another auditor with particular expertise in this field. Controller Randy Norell and I invited proposals and interviewed representatives of three such firms and contracted with Elizabeth McMaster, of McMaster, Ryan, and Olson, to perform the Association's audit this year. The auditors' statement for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2001, starts on page 37 of this annual report. The current audit did result in some recommendations for simplifying our internal financial reporting system, which we will be implementing during the coming year.

Membership

As on March 15, 2001, the date on which we traditionally take a statistical snapshot of our membership, the AHA membership totaled 16,736. Within this total are 14,685 individual members and 3,288 institutional subscriptions. The number of individual paying members increased slightly over the previous year, with membership in the higher income range categories growing while numbers in the lower categories is decreasing. However, the number of student members has increased slightly, from 2,805 in 2000 to 2,972 at the end of March 2001. Institutional subscriptions continued a modest but worrisome steady decline over recent years. In 1997 we had 3,714 institutional subscriptions, compared with 3,003 in March 2001. On the positive side, the numbers of subscribers to the Institutional Services Program and of members joining the Member Services Program have both shown modest increases. On March 31, 2001, there were 641 ISP subscribers and 943 MSP subscribers. IMIS, the membership database system the AHA had used since 1996, had become a problem because the volume of transactions for the AHA had outgrown the capacity of the software and the vendor insisted it was in need of a substantial upgrade in order to avoid recurrent crashes and potential corruption of the data. Therefore, since we had to engage in a major system change, we investigated other vendors. Our choice was NOAH, from J.L. Systems, which is better designed for membership organizations and professional associations such as ours. Several other scholarly associations in the Washington area use it and they gave us excellent references on the system. While the transition has not been without problems, we believe that, when completed, the new system will be much more effective and less prone to error and breakdown.

Advocacy and Representation

The AHA continues to work on advocacy issues through its long-standing membership in the National Coordinating Committee for the Promotion of History (NCC), the National Humanities Alliance (NHA), and the Consortium of Social Science Associations (COSSA). The NCC has closely monitored the continuing turmoil at the Smithsonian Institution, particularly the National Museum of American History, as well as continued funding for the "Teaching American History" grants introduced by Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia. The NCC has also served as an important resource in mobilizing historical organizations to express their concerns about President Bush's recent Executive Order on implementation of the Presidential Records Act. For the past year the NCC, under Bruce Craig's new leadership has been undertaking a review of its structure and activities. These efforts, which have included a member survey and a planning retreat, have culminated in a set of recommendations for consideration by NCC's Policy Board. Chief among the proposed changes will be a new name (National History Coalition), a new mission statement and a change of the organization's non-profit status from a 501(c) (4) (lobbying) to a 501(c) (3).

The National Humanities Alliance held its second annual Jefferson Day on March 26, 2001. Supported by 22 national organizations, the event drew more than 130 National Endowment of the Humanities (NEH) supporters who visited their representatives in the House and in the Senate. This effort, which coincides with the NEH Jefferson Lecture, provides an attractive venue for members of the 88 organizations active in the NHA to make their views on cultural issues better known to Congress. Cooperative efforts with college and university government relations offices have been particularly beneficial.

We also participated in a national Roundtable on Sustaining Communities of Scholarly Communication in Higher Education that was convened by the NHA and the Association of Research Libraries with support from the Knight Foundation. Focused primarily on the humanities and social sciences, this small and highly moderated discussion group explored the impact of changing technologies and increasing costs on scholarly publications and current scholarship. The result of this effort is a publication, Policy Perspectives, which is read by 20,000 administrators, faculty, and others involved with higher education. The NHA also has a Committee on Intellectual Property, which monitors legislation and other developments with respect to copyright. The Consortium of Social Science Associations, of which the AHA is a founding member, celebrated its 20th anniversary this fall. Commemorating this anniversary, COSSA has published "Fostering Human Progress," a 100-page booklet that summarizes the role of social and behavioral science research in the shaping of public policy. COSSA has also initiated a conversation with the recently confirmed director of the White House Office of Science and Technology, John Marburger, who stressed the importance of social science as a part of the Bush administration's education initiative and who advocates a revival of area studies programs in U. S. higher education.

A major share of COSSA's attention this spring has been focused on the development of a new national accrediting body for Institutional Review Boards (IRBs). The goal of their participation in the Association for the Accreditation of Human Research Protection Programs (AAHRPP) has been to insure a voice for the social sciences in the development of standards for human subject research.

Special Projects

The "Crossing Intellectual, Institutional, and International Borders: Strengthening Area Studies Through World History" effort continues with generous support from the Ford Foundation. This project enabled 20 community college historians to participate in a seminar on the theme, "Explorations in Empire" last summer at the Library of Congress. The success of the second seminar and the international conference held last March have prompted the partners-the AHA, the Community College Humanities Association, the Library of Congress and several area studies groups-to apply for a third round of funding from the Ford Foundation.

Last spring the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation again awarded us a generous grant (of $980,000) renewing support for the Gutenberg-e Prize competition for a further period of three years. We will thus be able to hold three additional competitions in 2002, 2003, and 2004. As in the first series of competitions, every year six scholars will be awarded $20,000 each as a fellowship grant to defray expenses that might be incurred in revising the prize-winning manuscript for electronic publication by Columbia University Press, our partners in the program. In this context, I should place on record our thanks not only to the foundation, but also to Robert Darnton who worked hard on writing the renewal proposal and on the follow-up discussions. The first two electronic books resulting from Gutenberg-e Prize competition were launched during the 116th Annual Meeting in San Francisco at a special reception held on January 4, 2002.

In June 2000, a grant from the Carnegie Corporation was awarded to the AHA to pursue an investigation of the current state and possible future(s) of graduate education in the discipline of history. The funded project commenced in September. In the weeks that followed, the Committee on Graduate Education (CGE)-which oversees this project for the AHA-worked to refine the objectives and methodologies of the investigation. Face-to-face meetings of the CGE were held November 17-19, 2000, and January 5, 2001, the former in conjunction with a conference sponsored by the National Council on Education and the Disciplines. In the meantime, following a national search, the AHA hired Philip M. Katz to serve as full-time research director of the project. To date, the CGE has focused on collecting data about the current state of graduate education for historians, identifying the particular concerns of historians and graduate students in different subdisciplines and professional settings, and identifying best practices for improving graduate training in the 21st century. We have gathered information in three main ways: First, through a series of open forums at conferences that attract different constituencies within the historical profession. The first of these was held on January 5, 2001, at the AHA's own annual conference in Boston. Other forums have been held (or will be held) at the following national meetings: the Society for History in the Federal Government (Washington, March 15), the National Council for Public History (Ottawa, April 20), the Organization of American Historians (Los Angeles, April 28), the Society for Historians of American For¬ eign Relations (Washington, June 16), the World History Association (Salt Lake City, July 29), the National Council for History Education (Washington, October 20), the Community College Humanities Association (Portland, Ore., October 26), and the National Council for the Social Studies (Washington, November 17).

These sessions have been supplemented with e-mail queries directed towards national associations of independent historians and of historians employed in libraries and archives. Finally, in another effort to address the diversity of interests across the profession, an advisory board has been formed that includes representatives from large universities and small colleges, public history institutions, community colleges, sec¬ ondary schools, schools of education, etc., and with a range in age from graduate students in their twenties to one emeritus professor in his nineties (Jacques Barzun, who also served on the AHA's previous Committee on Graduate Education, back in the late-1950's).

The second method of eliciting information was through an informal e-mail survey of history department chairs. In March 2001, the CGE sent a brief electronic survey to every history department chair on the AHA's mailing list, which includes more than 630 departments in the United States and Canada. In this query, the chairs were asked to share their views and concerns about graduate education in history, and to identify changes and trends in graduate training. Nearly a hundred historians responded, from both Ph.D.-granting and Ph.D.-hiring departments, and their answers have helped guide the CGE's subsequent investigations.

The third method adopted was a detailed survey of doctoral programs. In May 2001, the AHA mailed a 44-page questionnaire to the director of graduate studies at every doctorate-granting history program in the United States (158 in all). The questionnaire addressed most aspects of graduate training at the doctoral level, from admissions and funding to attrition rates, fields of study, faculty (and student) expectations, the relation between graduate study and the undergraduate liberal arts curriculum, preparations for college teaching, graduate students' exposure to technology, departmental cultures and procedures, job placement rates, and much more. Respondents were asked to provide specific details about their programs, numerical data where appropriate, and an assessment of trends over time. To our pleasant surprise, two-thirds of the recipients completed and returned the questionnaire (n=103)-a remarkable yield that speaks well for the discipline and that underscores the importance of the present investigation. We are still analyzing the mass of collected data, which probably represents the best snapshot of doctoral training in any major academic discipline. This is my third annual report as the executive director of the American Historical Association. I take this opportunity to thank the staff at the Washington office, as well as the officers of the Association who have been very supportive. My thanks go also to American Historical Review editor Michael Grossberg and his staff at Bloomington, Indiana, and, of course, to the many AHA members who gave of their time to serve on committees and those who otherwise support the Association through their continued membership.

Arnita A. Jones is executive director of the AHA.