From the AHA Activities column in the May 1999 Perspectives
Annual Report of the Professional Division for 1998
Carla Rahn Phillips, May 1999
This is my last annual report as vice president of the Professional Division. A broad overview of the division's activities in 1998 has already appeared in the annual meeting Program, prepared by AHA headquarters staff. Here I will simply touch on some of the central and ongoing concerns of the division. During the three years that I served as vice president, 33 complaints (by my count) were brought to the division. Ten of these complaints involved allegations of plagiarism, another 13 dealt with allegations of unprofessional conduct of various sorts, and the remaining 10 alleged unfair hiring practices. We declined to hear 14 of the complaints, based on the criteria in the AHA's Statement on Standards. My annual report for 1997 discussed various composite scenarios based on those 14 complaints (Perspectives, April 1998), explaining why they did not meet the standards for a full review. Besides the cases filed formally, many individuals discussed potential complaints with me informally by phone or e-mail. That remains an option for members who want an outside opinion, and it can often be more useful and faster than filing a formal complaint. For example, an allegation of unfair hiring practices may be impossible to demonstrate from the written record, as required by the AHA's Statement on Standards, and a job candidate may feel too vulnerable to bring a formal complaint. Instead, once alerted, the vice president for the Professional Division may be able to make inquiries or even resolve a matter informally without mentioning the job candidate.
Dissatisfaction with the job market is presumably more widespread than the number of formal and informal complaints would indicate, based on the "war stories" told among job candidates. At the January meeting in Washington, the division once again sponsored a "Mock Interview" session to give job candidates practical advice about how to present themselves in interviews. I also stopped by the waiting room for the Job Register interviews several times, simply to observe. The physical facilities were arranged about as efficiently as they could be, and the local graduate students staffing the registration desk and the waiting room seemed committed to being as helpful as possible to the candidates who filed in and out. Nonetheless, improvements can be made even to the most efficient operation, and the stress inherent in the hiring process can magnify every perceived flaw. If you have suggestions as to how the Job Register could be improved, please send your ideas to the Professional Division or to Robert Townsend at AHA headquarters. Suggestions will be particularly helpful if they come from recent participants in the Job Register, both interviewers and job candidates.
Last fall, the Professional Division reviewed and edited the AHA's guidelines for the hiring process, adding several points about on-campus interviews and contract negotiations. Our aim was to make the guidelines as clear and comprehensive as possible, although obviously we could not cover every contingency. Last fall the division also began to review the statement on standards regarding the hiring process. The statement deals only with open searches; it does not even acknowledge practices known as "spousal hires," "special opportunity hires," and "administrative transfers," which are relatively common in the profession these days. To remedy this lapse, it is likely that the division will consider the full range of hiring as it continues its review. The AHA Council and the Professional Division continue to view the job market and the annual meeting's Job Register among their highest priorities.
The AHA also continues to monitor the use of part-time and temporary faculty. (The phrase "adjunct faculty" is often used to describe them, but that category is too general and ambiguous to be useful.) The Professional Division developed a set of guidelines, approved by Council in May 1998, outlining good practices to be followed when part-time and temporary faculty are hired to teach history. The guidelines aimed to integrate part-time and temporary faculty into the intellectual and administrative life of the hiring institutions, for the benefit of all concerned. Our point of departure in developing the guidelines was the closing document from the conference on part-time and temporary faculty (a.k.a. "adjunct") cosponsored by the AHA and held in September 1997. The AHA continues its partnership with the other organizations who sponsored that important meeting. In the past several years, the division has sponsored the discussion of issues crucial to the profession. Whenever possible, we organized a panel on a specific issue at the AHA's annual meeting, continued the discussion at the luncheon of department chairs during the meeting, and later arranged for the publication of related articles in Perspectives. The issues we focused on were the downsizing of departments and graduate programs (1997), tenure and post-tenure review (1998), part-time and temporary faculty (1998), the job market and the production of PhDs (1999), and faculty governance and unionization (1999). Further discussion of these issues has taken place on the e-mail listserv established for department chairs by the AHA.
The five-person division changes its identity each year, due to the staggered terms of the members. AHA staff support by Sharon K. Tune and Robert Townsend in Washington provides the continuity and paperwork that the division needs to function, and I am grateful as always for their help. In past years I have thanked division members as their terms ended. This year I am very pleased to thank Gail Savage, whose term ended in January. Gail provided exemplary service to the division, taking special interest in the concerns of part-time and temporary faculty and in our liaison with the AHA's Task Force on Graduate Education. She also served as contributing editor of Perspectives for professional issues. In that capacity, she took responsibility for highlighting topics that the division had identified for special attention. As Gail and I leave the division, its work will proceed under the leadership of Barbara D. Metcalf (Univ. of California at Davis), with continuing members Leila Fawaz (Tufts Univ.), James Grossman (Newberry Library), and Marilyn Young (NYU) representing Council, and newly-elected member Charles Zappia (San Diego Mesa Coll.). They and Council will decide what issues the division will address as the AHA enters the new millennium, and I wish them all the best in that endeavor.
—Carla Rahn Phillips (Univ. of Minnesota) was vice president of the AHA's Professional Division, 1996–99.