Viewpoints

Response to Professor Haskell

Linda B. Hall, April 1992

Response to Professor Haskell - Perspectives (April 1992) - American Historical Association

In Professor Thomas Haskell's document entitled "A Proposal to Change the Program Committee Guidelines" he quotes a letter sent over my name to "an acquaintance" of his over a year ago. This letter was sent in error, and did not at that time or at any time represent the policy of the 1991 Program Committee, nor did it represent my interpretation of 6d in the Program Committee guidelines. The proposer of the panel asked for clarification, and he was informed by telephone within a few days that it inaccurately reflected the intentions of the Committee and that his panel would be fully considered at the March meeting. However, as Professor Haskell observes, it is understandable under the circumstances that these assurances were unconvincing. Clarification was given as well to the few others who received the inaccurate letter and inquired. No proposals were withdrawn, and all proposals submitted to the Committee were considered at the March meeting. As I have emphasized to Professor Haskell and others, I was entirely responsible for the error, the result of an injudicious alteration of a form letter. I very much regret that this error occurred, but it in no way altered the ultimate form of the program.

The policy of the 1991 Program Committee was to apply all of the guidelines of the Association as carefully as possible. As chair, I felt that we had both the authority and the responsibility to enforce all the guidelines in Section 6 (which are largely directed to questions of eligibility), and I felt that we had both the authority and the responsibility to waive those guidelines when there was good reason to do so. We informed all panel proposers of any inconformities with those guidelines, while remaining open to the reasonable exception. In the case of 6d, nine panels on the 1991 program were either all men (eight) or all women (one). In terms of overall balance, approximately 228 of 700 participants were women. The 1991 Program Committee acted fairly and carefully, as the 1991 Program reflects.

I must note, however, that as chair of the Committee I found 6d to be by far the most sensitive issue with which I had to deal, and one that caused considerable confusion not only for me but also for the members who were proposing panels. It is, moreover, the only item in Section 6 in which the Program Committee is directed to "actively seek" to achieve a particular end. For these reasons, it would be extremely useful, it seems to me, for the Research Division and the AHA Council to give future Program Committees more specific guidance in regard to the goals to be served by gender-integrated panels. I believe that the guidelines in Section 6 should be directed to opening the program to the largest possible number of members and to presenting a wide variety of voices and perspectives. Professor Haskell's suggestion in this direction deserves careful consideration.

Linda B. Hall is a professor of history at the University of New Mexico and chair of the 1991 Program Committee.