From the Letters to the Editor column of the December 2007 Perspectives

Faculty Evaluation and the Crisis in the Historical Profession

John P. Rossi, December 2007

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Faculty Evaluation
and the Crisis in the Historical Profession

To the Editor:

Drawing upon the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation’s report—Diversity and the PhDGeorge J. Sanchez points out (in the October 2007 Perspectives) that there is a "major crisis" confronting "the historical profession." While African Americans, Hispanics, and Native Americans constitute about 32 percent of the potential graduate student population, "only 7 percent of doctoral recipients" are from these groups.

Despite the efforts of the AHA, Sanchez argues, "the simple fact is that we have seemed incapable of attracting enough non-whites in our doctoral programs to significantly diversify our history faculties."

Unfortunately, Sanchez (as well as the AHA statement, "Equity for Minority Historians in the Academic Work Place: A Guide to Best Practices," published in the same issue of Perspectives) misses one of the central solutions in Woodrow Wilson National Foundation’s report: "vertical integration—graduate education, especially doctoral education, must make alliances with efforts at school reform in K–12, ensuring that young students learn about the opportunities for an advanced degree." The report advises that it is not enough to try and hire minority PhDs, because there are simply not enough of them in the pipeline. The pipeline itself needs to be expanded by encouraging closer contact between higher education and primary and secondary education, and better instruction in primary and secondary schools attended by historically discriminated groups.

Although the Woodrow Wilson National Foundation’s report is an important call to action, as are Sanchez’s article and the various AHA statements on minority historians, they fail to address one of the fundamental issues in diversifying higher education. Each misses what economists call opportunity costs. Faculty members have a finite amount of time and energy, and seemingly ever increasing demands on them. Addressing a problem as deep-seated as diversity in higher education requires a significant investment of the faculty’s (and administrators’) time and energy. These are resources which are already stressed at many institutions that are likely to recruit history majors or produce future graduate students.

These investments will not be made in any significant way without serious institutional changes to the system of faculty evaluation. Most institutions of higher education, if they give credit for working on diversity issues, place this under service in the evaluation process and assign a very low value to this work. Institutions such as Penn State place a much higher value on teaching and research (for tenured and tenure-track faculty at Penn State Erie, evaluation weightings are 45 percent teaching, 45 percent research, and 10 percent service for tenure, promotion, and merit evaluation). Faculty who invest the time and energy necessary to build the bridges to primary and secondary schools, actions that are essential to expand the pipeline to recruit minority students as history majors and future PhDs, will have less time to spend on research or teaching. This in turn will negatively affect such faculty members’ prospects for tenure, for promotion, and for raises.

Left unchanged, academia’s current reward system will serve to perpetuate the lack of diversity among history majors, PhDs, and the faculty. Tragically, history’s professional crisis will continue and deepen as a result.

—John P. Rossi
Penn State Erie, The Behrend College