News Briefs, September 2005

AHA Staff, September 2005

Education Department Issues Compliance Guidelines for "Constitution Day" Requirement

In an effort to comply with a statutory provision inserted in the final federal spending bill for fiscal 2005, on May 24, 2005, the Department of Education issued guidelines that direct all educational institutions—colleges ("institutions of higher education") as well as elementary and secondary schools ("local educational agencies")—that receive federal dollars to offer students instruction on the U.S. Constitution every September 17, which has been designated "Constitution Day." The guidelines appeared in the May 24, 2005 issue of the Federal Register (see vol. 70, No. 99 p. 29727).

The guidelines stop short of requiring that a specific curriculum be taught; rather, they give educational institutions considerable latitude in compliance. For example, institutions may hold a campus-wide assembly; others may opt to merely distribute information in classes. Compliance will be on the "honor-system" as there are no plans to monitor compliance, and according to department officials, "it is too soon to speculate" what might happen if an institution did not comply with the requirement.

The guidelines state that should September 17 fall on a weekend or holiday, the Constitution Day event is to be held "during the preceding or following week."

Some academics and conservative groups remain concerned the Constitution teaching mandate establishes a dangerous precedent for Congress in setting curriculum requirements. According to Becky Timmons, director of government relations at the American Council on Education, "our members find it [the provision] intrusive." Even conservative groups, which seek to advance patriotism and a better American history curriculum, also criticized the provision, citing the same concern.

For further information about the guidelines on compliance, contact Alex Stein, U.S. Department of Education at (202) 895-9085 or at Alex.Stein@ed.gov.

White House Announces Intention to Renominate Bruce Cole as NEH Chair

On July 18, 2005, the White House submitted to the Senate the nomination of Bruce Cole for another four-year term as chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Cole’s current term, which began in 2001, expires at the end of 2005.

Cole responded to the White House announcement with the following statement: "I am honored to be nominated by President George W. Bush to serve a second term as Chairman of the NEH. If confirmed, I will continue to vigorously uphold the highest standards of humanities scholarship, while ensuring that more Americans are served by the important work of the Endowment. I am grateful for the support of the President."

Cole is expected to be reconfirmed when the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, led by Senator Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) and Ranking Member Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), considers the nomination; the full Senate must also act on the nomination.

NARA Celebrates 20th Anniversary of "Archives Independence"

On May 20, 2005, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) concluded a multiday celebration commemorating the 20th anniversary of the 1984 legislation (S. 904) that gave NARA its independence from the General Services Administration (GSA).

Following a gala reception on May 19 and special guided tours of the "National Archives Experience" exhibit in the morning of the 20th, veterans of the struggle for archives independence reconvened that afternoon in the William G. McGowan Theater to reminisce about the successful independence effort and to discuss what lay in store for the agency in the next 20 years.

During the evening reception, official portraits of former Archivists of the United States Don Wilson and John Carlin were unveiled. Also, former Archivist of the United States Robert Warner was honored when the current Archivist of the United States, Allen Weinstein, announced the designation of the "Robert M. Warner Research Center" in the main archives building. Warner was Archivist of the United States from 1980 to 1985 and helped lead the fight to make NARA an independent agency.

NARA has constructed a web site that includes documents and first-hand accounts of the campaign for independence and also has posted the 1984 act that established NARA as an independent agency. Also available is a link (at www.archives.gov/about_us/anniversary/intro.html) to a video stream of the webcast of the May 20 celebration.

Kagan Delivers Jefferson Lecture

On May 12, 2005, Yale University professor of classics and history Donald Kagan delivered the 34th Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities, aptly titled "In Defense of History," to an audience of several hundred who gathered in a cavernous hall at the Washington Convention Center. Kagan took issue with the remarks of last year’s lecturer, poet Helen Vendler, who in her thoughtful address, "The Ocean, the Bird and the Scholar," declared poetry "first" among the disciplines of the humanities. On the contrary, Kagan asserted, history is the "Queen of Humanities." Kagan’s goal was to make the case for "the value of history" within the broader realm of the humanities. To this end, he called on professional historians to do a better job in making history and the humanities more central in public life.

By juxtaposing the role of the historian to that of other humanists (philosophers and poets, for example) Kagan spoke of the importance of crafting strong compelling narratives in order to appeal to contemporary audiences. He also took a swipe at "the current fad of skepticism and relativism" and declared that it more properly belonged in the sphere of poets and artists. Historians, he said, needed to return to the classical roots of their profession in an effort to make history relevant to modern audiences. He argued that too often modernists get diverted from the paths of wisdom and find themselves mired down in the swamps of metaphysical thinking, skepticism, and cynicism. Historians, he said, need to yield to "common sense and the massive evidence . . . that makes some things truer than others, however illusive perfect objectivity and truth may be."

For additional information about Kagan, the annual NEH sponsored Jefferson Lecture, and for the full text of Kagan’s talk, visit: http://www.neh.gov/whoweare/kagan/lecture.html.