Professional Division 2000

By Barbara D. Metcalf

The constitution of the Association charges the Professional Division with responsibility for collecting and disseminating information about employment opportunities and helping to ensure equal opportunities for all historians, regardless of individual membership in the Association. Implementing these directives, the division oversees the rights and responsibilities of historians, including the review of complaints brought to the Association under the Statement on Standards of Professional Conduct; the job market, including the Employment Information section of Perspectives and the Job Register at the annual meeting; the status of women and minorities in the profession; the collection and analysis of data on the profession; and prizes for professional service. The divisions provided for in the AHA constitution are the major units for the development of recommendations of policy to the governing Council, and are designed to provide the Council with information, advice, and proposals in connection with subjects or areas of concern assigned to them by the Council.

During 2000 the division included, in addition to myself, James Grossman (Newberry Library), Council member Marilyn Young (New York Univ.), Charles Zappia (San Diego Mesa Community Coll.), and Allen Isaacman (Univ. of Minnesota). Susan Stuard (Haverford College) is the division's newly elected member. Division members bring a variety of experiences to their responsibilities and we were blessed this past year in having had members based in private and public universities, a community college, and a research library.

Sharon K. Tune, AHA's assistant director for administration, serves an invaluable role as staff to the division, providing a steady and insightful perspective informed by her skills as an attorney and her experience with the division over many years. The division also benefits greatly from the guidance of Albert J. Beveridge III, legal counsel of the Association, whose commitment to the professional study of history rivals that of many for whom history is a career.

Complaints brought to the division, informal consultations with the vice president and staff, and communications expressing their concerns from members and others together shape much of the agenda of the division. A major responsibility of the division is to hear complaints and to provide informal advice under the policies and procedures in the Statement on Standards. This past year the division made a finding in one case, entailing plagiarism. In addition, the division dealt with about two dozen informal complaints and queries, several of which were considered in the form of "preliminary complaints." The division also participated in an appeals proceeding of a finding of plagiarism from 1999. The person found against appealed both the finding and the request of the division to Council to make the finding public. That case was resolved by Council at its January 4, 2001, meeting.

The division focused during the year on several issues related to the hiring process. It recommended, and Council approved, that the following statement be added to the Statement on Standards: "Hiring institutions should also not inquire into a candidate's citizenship. A candidate's right to work in the United States should not be asked about until such information becomes relevant to concluding a contract." This was in response to concerns expressed by job candidates who had encountered questions about citizenship at the time of their initial response to a job announcement. The division also advised Council on the question of whether access to employment ads on the web site be restricted to members. This proved a difficult issue, given the competing principles of open access and prudence in relation to possible financial loss; Council decided to table the issue for three years, during which time access to job listings would continue to be restricted. The division added the following statement on searches to Perspectives' Employment Information Policy Statement: "No final decision should be made without considering all applications received before the closing date."

The division also continued to monitor the interviewing process at the annual meeting. The confirmation form to those given space now requires those scheduling interviews to immediately inform the AHA as well as the candidate of a decision not to hold interviews as originally planned; those who fail to do so risk exclusion from interviewing space in the future. As it has for more than 10 years, the division sponsored an interview workshop (chaired by myself as division vice president) at the 2000 annual meeting for candidates preparing for interviews during the meeting.

The division reviewed the Association's "Policy Statement Concerning Alleged Violations of the Rights of Foreign Historians." This was in response to concerns early in the year about Song Yongyi, a scholar from Dickinson College arrested in China (and subsequently released) for gathering materials related to the history of the Cultural Revolution. The division concluded that the current policy was inconsistent, outdated, and unlikely to produce the quick action needed in such cases. It recommended to Council a full reconsideration of the policy, including the question of whether the division or Council should have primary responsibility in these matters. This review is currently underway.

The division has undertaken discussions, which will continue into 2001, on three major issues. First, it has initiated a review of the entire process of hearing individual complaints. Should the division hear individual complaints at all, given that many comparable associations (such as the Modern Language Association and the American Anthropological Association) articulate and publicize general professional standards but do not address individual queries? If the division continues to do so, are there better ways to control which complaints are accepted? And of those accepted, should the division change its procedures to allow not only for "findings" but also for mediation of some complaints? Should there be sanctions for findings? Above all, the sanction of routine publicity? Several concerns motivate these questions. We are concerned that our process, which moves toward a "finding," may discourage the most vulnerable members of the profession from using it. We have had recent queries, for example, about the inappropriate use by senior scholars of junior scholars' work, none of whom then proceeded to make a formal complaint, apparently out of fear of possible reprisals. We are also concerned about the limited impact of what we do since we do not routinely publish our findings. Should findings be made public as a matter of course? In any case, we plan revision of our current procedures, above all to require more information at the earliest stage and to clarify the appeals process (which had not been utilized before this past year).

A second area of concern is the role of public historians and their place in the AHA. The division has concluded that relatively few of our colleagues who describe themselves as public historians are members of the Association. We believe that it is to the mutual benefit of academic historians and public historians to find ways of making the Association serve the needs of public historians better.

Finally, the division proposes to continue the discussion of guidelines for filling nonsearched positions. The Association has long adhered to the principle that hiring should be the result of fair and open searches but also recognizes the reality—sometimes serving the conflicting principle of diversity—that departments often wish to make appointments that are not searched, including affirmative action, spousal/partner, and special "opportunity" hires. In 1998 the Committee on Women Historians initiated discussion through Perspectives on possible guidelines. Seeing this as a general professional issue, not one specific to women, the division now intends to work on guidelines that will help departments facing appointments of this sort.

In addition to the interview workshop, the division sponsored two panels at the 2000 annual meeting in Chicago. Division member James Grossman organized a panel, "Journalists, Scholars, and Historical Writing." Jeremy Popkin organized a roundtable, "History Departments in a New Century." As the title of this last panel suggests, there are many lively professional issues that historians and their departments face as the new century begins. Members are welcome to write to me, in care of the AHA office, on topics raised in this report, or on other issues they feel the division should address.

Barbara D. Metcalf (Univ. of California at Davis) is vice president of the AHA's Professional Division.