Policy on Professional Division Adjudication of Complaints (2003)

On May 3, 2003, the AHA Council adopted the following motion.

Motion #1: Henceforth, the AHA will no longer invite or adjudicate formal complaints relating to violations of its Statement on Standards of Professional Conduct.

The Professional Division was drawn into adjudication in the late 1980s shortly after the AHA first adopted its Statement on Standards of Professional Conduct, reflecting an assumption that publication of such a Statement required the AHA to provide a forum for hearing complaints based upon it. We entered into adjudication even though the AHA was almost unique among major national professional organizations in doing so.

Over the course of the 1990s, processing queries and adjudicating a small number of complaints became the major preoccupation of the AHA Professional Division, not quite to the exclusion of other activities, but certainly to so great a degree that simply as a matter of opportunity costs the PD could not devote nearly as much attention to many other pressing concerns.

With this motion, the AHA Council now officially ratifies its decision in January 2003 to abandon adjudication. We do not believe that its benefits to the profession justify the time, energy, and effort that have gone into perfecting it. Furthermore, the AHA’s commitment to adjudication and due process has had several paradoxical and unanticipated consequences:

  1. Because AHA adjudication is confidential, it has had virtually no public impact on the profession: for the most part, the outcome of our decisions is known only to those who complained or were complained against. If one of the most important purposes of our Statement on Standards is to promote wide public and professional understanding of what historians mean by scholarly integrity, then adjudication has contributed little to such understanding.
  2. Because our procedures are so laborious, and because the PD only takes up cases if someone is willing to file a formal complaint and undergo this very complicated and time-consuming process, many cases of obvious plagiarism and misconduct go completely ignored even when members of the PD are fully aware of them, with the result that even our limited enforcement is disturbingly random in its application.
  3. Because we have virtually no sanctions regarding misconduct—all we do is write letters at the end of our process, letters which we ourselves treat as confidential and which typically remain so—it is difficult to demonstrate that our adjudication has had serious consequences even for individuals who are clearly guilty of egregious professional misconduct.
  4. Because our jurisdiction has potentially been the entire planet, we have felt constrained about making any kinds of public comments about individual cases that might come before us, in a wholly appropriate effort to maintain our disinterested neutrality as a court. But this has had the consequence—wholly unanticipated at the time adjudication was adopted in the 1980s—of largely silencing the AHA as a vigorous advocate for high professional standards when controversies have emerged to public view. Especially during the past couple years, which have seen the most public and volatile debates in a generation about misconduct among historians, the very procedures we have adopted to police such misconduct have rendered us ineffective—indeed, almost silent—in criticizing it. This surely was not what anyone originally intended.

For all these reasons—because it is so time-consuming, because its opportunity costs are so high, because it has so hindered our public advocacy, and because it has been largely so ineffective even despite our own best efforts (and the heroic labor of those who have overseen the process)—the Professional Division spent much of 2002 discussing whether to abandon adjudication altogether. On January 2, 2003, the AHA Council voted unanimously for the PD to spend the next half year developing a formal process for moving away from adjudication, during which a moratorium on new cases was put in place. Council’s expectation at that time was that adjudication would be abandoned at the end of this process. With Motion #1, Council now affirms and enacts its earlier decision.