Annual Report 2001
This is my final report as vice president of the Professional Division, and I write with great appreciation and admiration for the headquarters staff, AHA legal counsel, and division members I have had the privilege of working with these past three years. Much of what a historian does is a solo performance-just her, the archives, the computer, the class preparation. So there is great satisfaction in working collectively; in this case, in a committee where five or six heads are light years better than one. One of the recent responsibilities of the division was to review the text of the AHA "Statement on Diversity in AHA Nominations and Appointments" (as all such documents are periodically reviewed). As we did so, I reflected on how important it is that this division (like other bodies of the Association) struggles to reflect the many forms of diversity within the membership. In this case, the different work experiences of members is particularly important and our members have represented a wide range of settings from liberal arts colleges, to unionized community colleges, to research universities (public and private), to libraries, to organizations dealing with public history.
Such diversity of background is especially invaluable as the division deals with the allegations of complaints of violation of professional standards. A major responsibility of the division is to provide informal advice and hear complaints under the policies and procedures in the Statement on Standards of Professional Conduct. This past year the division dealt with about three dozen informal complaints and queries, several of which were considered in the form of "preliminary complaints." Plagiarism, unfair hiring practices (involving, for example, inaccurate advertisement and age discrimination), and lack of professional courtesy continue to be major issues.
The division also undertook a review of the entire process of hearing individual complaints. Our question was whether the division should hear individual complaints at all, given that many comparable associations articulate and publicize general professional standards but do not review specific individual problems. (A trigger for our review was a particularly complicated, multiyear complaint that culminated in an appeal and required substantial time and resources from division members, headquarters staff, legal counsel, and Council members assigned to hear the appeal.) The division concluded that it did not want to recommend discontinuation of the complaint process. The division had invited member input into this decision, and although there were relatively few responses, they uniformly expressed the view that the complaint process should be retained.
The division thoroughly discussed the option of a separate, standing committee charged with the sole responsibility of hearing complaints. This option offered the advantage of greater continuity of membership, specialized expertise on the part of those hearing complaints, and a lighter workload for the division. This advantage, the division felt, was outweighed by the disadvantage of removing this important process from the elected representatives of the Association acting in a collegial, not a judicial, context. The current process, moreover, allows the division to better revise and expand the Statement on Standards in the light of the ongoing knowledge gained from hearing complaints.
The division is now trying to streamline the complaint process. Key to this is a revision of the "Complaint Summary" form to request additional information that will allow members to determine early on whether "the AHA will be able to make a positive contribution to resolving the problem" (Addendum on Policies and Procedures, paragraph 3). An initial review after six months suggests that the new form is working well. It asks complainants to provide up to five pages of documentation and a specific statement of their expectations of how the AHA can assist in resolving their situation. The division is also seeking to more actively redirect complaints that can be better handled elsewhere.
The division also reviewed the issue of whether there should be a change in procedures to allow not only for "findings" but also for sanctions for findings, above all the sanction of routine publicity. This past year, for the first time, Council approved the public announcement of a finding of a particularly egregious case of "plagiarism and misuse." The division concluded that the current procedure of publicity only under exceptional circumstances with Council approval worked well. "Finding" letters will, however, remind parties that they are not bound by confidentiality once the complaint process is concluded. In relation to "findings," the division will also encourage regular articles in Perspectives that present the issues and lessons illustrated by complaints. An article in the December 2001 issue, for example, reviewed several complaints dealing with plagiarism.
In a second important area, the division continued discussion of "best practices" for filling non-searched positions for spouses/partners in the context of hiring and retention. The Association has long adhered to the principle that hiring should be the result of fair and open searches but also recognizes the reality-sometimes serving the conflicting principle of diversity-that departments often wish to make appointments that are not searched, including affirmative action, spousal/partner, and special " hires. In 1998 the Committee on Women Historians initiated discussion through Perspectives on possible guidelines for spousal/partner hiring. Seeing this as a general professional issue, not one specific to women, the division brought to the Council a proposed draft of "best practices" in relation to spousal/partner hiring.
A third lively area of discussion over the past year focused on public historians in relation to the Association and public history as an area of concern for all historians. The Professional Division has a responsibility to address the issues of all historians, not just fully employed historians in academic positions. It also hopes to encourage the public history activities of academic historians. In this regard, the division agreed to sponsor a panel at the 2002 annual meeting illustrating a successful collaboration between academic and public historians ("Telling Rhode Island's Story: Innovative Collaborations in Public and Academic History"). Working closely with Council member Linda Shopes (Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission), the division recommended creation of a Task Force on Public History. It has now been established, its mission defined, and its members appointed. Members of the division serve as liaison to this task force and to the Committee on Part-Time and Adjunct Employment and the Task Force on Graduate Education. The division also continued to monitor the interviewing process at the annual meeting and, as usual, the division sponsored the Interview Workshop (chaired by myself as division vice president) for candidates preparing for interviews during the meeting. The division also sponsored a session on post-tenure review as well as one on legislative and organizational strategies for issues related to academic employment.
In conclusion, I welcome my successor, William J. Cronon (Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison, and Peter C. Hoffer (Univ. of Georgia), the new division member. James Grossman (Newberry Library), Councilor Maureen Murphy Nutting (North Seattle Community Coll.), and Susan Mosher Stuard (Haverford Coll.) are the division's continuing members, as Charles Zappia (San Diego Mesa Community Coll.) and I rotate off.
The division's work is unimaginable without Sharon K. Tune, AHA assistant director administration, who graciously and expertly supports the work of the division with her skills as an attorney, her experience as a living "historical memory," and her unfailing good judgment. The division also benefits greatly from the generous and insightful guidance of Albert J. Beveridge III, legal counsel of the Association.
AHA members are always welcome to write to the vice president, now Bill Cronon, care of the AHA office, on topics raised in this report, or on other issues they feel the division should address.
Barbara D. Metcalf (Univ. of California at Davis) was vice president of the AHA's Professional Division, 1999-2001.Last Updated: July 6, 2007 3:53 PM