From the Executive Director's column in the January 1998 Perspectives
Reaching beyond the AHA: Of Adjuncts and Other Issues
Sandria B. Freitag, January 1998
Planning discussions conducted by the AHA during 1995–96 identified a number of crucial issues that would affect the practice of history in the coming decades. Many such issues could be addressed at the departmental or discipline level, and the Association has worked steadily over the past year and a half to deal with those: in this issue of Perspectives, for instance, you will see guidelines both for textbooks and high school standards for teaching history. Similarly, sessions at the last three annual meetings have dealt with downsizing, alternative careers, changing conditions in publishing, affirmative action in the new context, and the like. Ongoing AHA projects focus on improving the survey course; demonstrating the usefulness of portfolio assessment for evaluating teaching (and its connections to research); linking research on learning with history teaching techniques; and the integration of area studies and history through research and teaching.
For many key issues affecting historians, however, solutions will come only through collaborations and projects larger than the discipline or the department. The crisis in monograph publishing, the support for research (defense of the NEH and beyond), the new treatment of intellectual property, the need to build consensus to facilitate compatible formatting and mounting of scholarly and teaching materials for dissemination, and the broadened training of graduate students are but a few such issues. Addressing the expanded use of adjunct and part-time faculty looms among the largest changes in the academy that historians need to join with others to address. And, indeed, the AHA is working closely with a number of partners to tackle all of these new conditions in which historians find themselves.
Elsewhere in this issue you will find coverage of an ambitious undertaking spearheaded by the AHA regarding the expanded use of part-time and adjunct faculty. Basic to this project has been the analysis that this is not a
temporary condition but an underlying part of the structure of higher education as it is now constituted. We have reached this state due to many factors and locales of decisionmaking: permanent faculty want time off to do research and institutions allow them to do so only when their teaching tasks can be covered at lower cost; in many disciplines, faculty are unwilling to teach lower-division or entry-level courses; campuses want maximum financial and planning flexibility to address competing needs (including the competition between humanities and the sciences); and state governments have withdrawn from previous levels of fiscal support and are only slowly putting more money back into their higher education institutions (usually with many more strings and accountability measures attached). To tackle the threats to quality education posed by these intersecting but discrete decisions and interests, the AHA sought collaboration with a number of other national organizations.
This strategy was designed by the Professional Division under the vice presidency of Drew Gilpin Faust. Concerned for a couple of years about the pattern of expanded use that was emerging, the division realized that institutional policies and practices could not be addressed effectively at the departmental level, and that the Association's efforts to affect the trend would not work in isolation. Instead, the AHA turned to the ongoing working relationships it enjoys with the 60 members of the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) to build a coalition. ACLS member societies have been working together on a number of projects for several years—most notably, the exploration of journal dissemination and related planning issues, intellectual property concerns, and shared teaching interests (at both the undergraduate and K—12 levels). However, none of these discussions had actually involved concrete collaboration on the planning, execution, and follow-through of a conference discussion.*
The determination by a number of higher education organizations to design a conference and follow-up activities thus represents a new phase in intersociety coalition building. It is encouraging that additional ACLS societies have joined the effort in the wake of the conference; they are taking the conference materials and the official statement produced at the conference to their boards for endorsement and other follow-up activities. At this juncture we face a new and encouraging environment in which to tackle the key issues challenging the academy and its historians, marked by both process and the range of participant organizations involved in this model coalition. Sponsoring partners in this enterprise include the Modern Language Association, the American Philosophical Association, the Organization of American Historians, the American Mathematical Association, the National Council of Teachers of English, the American Sociological Association and the American Political Science Association, as well as the Community College Human ities Association, and the American Assoc iation of University Professors. Additional participants and new supporters of the enterprise include the Association of American Colleges and Universities, the National Research Council, the College Art Association, the Middle East Studies Association, the American Association of Religion, and the American Anthropo logical Association.
It is likely that the processes used to reach broad-based consensus and the positive approaches designed to meet this issue will provide a helpful model for future collaborations as well. A planning committee of representatives from the sponsoring organizations met for a year to delineate the aspects they wished to explore and how they wanted to accomplish their joint goals. After an initial effort to secure outside funding failed, they decided to fund the conference themselves and to limit attendance to 60 participants in order to control costs. (A modest budget of $20,000 covered all costs except in-kind contributions of staff and representatives' time. The various organizations also contributed the travel costs of their representatives.) Each group worked very hard to include a wide range of representative voices of those affected by disciplinary use of adjuncts, including full- and part-time faculty, administrators, association officers, and graduate students. They identified a range of background paper writers to cover various facets of the issue. These papers were distributed and read by participants prior to the conference, so that they shared a knowledge base from which to start the discussion. For the first day and a half, participants moved from plenary sessions of open discussion to break-out groups (the latter organized, for instance, by varying disciplinary use of adjuncts). For several hours late into Saturday night, voluntary workgroups wrestled with pieces of a draft document that was brought back for plenary revision the next day. The preliminary thought and work that preceded the actual gathering thus enabled the group to be remarkably productive in just over two days of meeting together.
The conference outcomes will encourage future successes as well. The resulting consensus enabled the group to shape a report that will not only delineate the issues involved, but also suggest guidelines for good practices and recommend future actions. Action is not limited to publication of the proceedings. Rather, interested organizations now have additional steps they can take and—not the least important result of the conference—these are steps they can take together. Recognition of the special value gained from working together is reflected in the recommendations, which strongly urge future collaboration.
We take great satisfaction from the outcome of this conference. It marks special leadership by the association on an issue of import to much of the academy. It builds on and extends our ability to have an impact beyond our own scale and scope of activity. And it measures the potential for future activities we can take in concert with other organizations as we face the challenges of doing history in the 21st century.