From the Letters to the Editor column of the March 2008 issue of Perspectives on History
Letters to the Editor: An Undemocratic Decision?
Bernard Sinsheimer, April 2008
Editor's Note: Perspectives on History welcomes letters to the editor on issues discussed in its pages or which are relevant to the profession. Letters should ideally be brief and should be sent to Letters to the Editor (or mailed to Letters to the Editor, Perspectives on History, AHA, 400 A Street SE, Washington, DC 20003-3889) along with full contact information. Letters selected for publication may be edited for style, length, and content. Publication of letters does not signify endorsement by the AHA of the views expressed by the authors, who alone are responsible for ensuring accuracy of the letters' contents. Institutional affiliations are provided only for identification purposes.
To the Editor:
Since joining the A.H.A. in 1942, I have tried to vote in the elections for officers—recently by mail from abroad. I was shocked to read these words (on page 17 of the January 2008 Perspectives on History) "we will not nominate candidates from institutions that are already represented among officers and on elective committees." Perhaps the person most qualified comes from Harvard, Johns Hopkins University, University of Chicago, and so on. Since the word "we" is used, presumably the decision was not an ukase of Jane Gilmer Landers (the committee's chair), but a decision of the nine-member Nominating Committee. My congratulations to any member who voted "nay."
The nine-member Supreme Court has often reversed decisions. I hope next year's Nominating Committee will reverse the undemocratic decision of the current group. (Incidentally, the Supreme Court itself has geographic variety, but no such rule. There were two justices from Minnesota once, and two were from Arizona more recently.)
University of Maryland, European Division. Now retired.
Editor's Note: The statement referred to has not been introduced for the first time by the 2008 Nominating Committee. Nor is it meant to be an undemocratic exclusion of particular individuals. On the contrary, it has been a long-standing practice to thus encapsulate and implement the more democratic policy objective of securing the widest possible representation in the governance of the Association. The Council-approved "Statement on Diversity in AHA Nominations and Appointments" (that we annually publish in the newsmagazine, usually in the October issue) charges the Nominating Committee with the task of ensuring diversity—as broadly defined—not through quotas but by taking into account when making nominations of a wide variety of factors ranging from age, institutional setting, and gender to race, rank, regional distribution, and area of specialization.
In light of such guidelines and even more importantly—as the invitation puts it—"to avoid concentrating leadership positions in a few institutions," nominating committees have been providing a list of "blocked" institutions each year. This list is an ever changing list, and is only intended to allow for and foster a wider participation in the governance, and thus, of the activities of the Association.