Professional Division 2011

By Jacqueline Jones, University of Texas at Austin

The Professional Division (PD) consists of four members.  Three are continuing from last year—myself as vice-president, Laura Isabel Serna (USC), and Sara Abosch (University of Memphis).  Sarah Maza (Northwestern University) has just completed her term.  The division acknowledges the invaluable support provided by Director, Meetings and Administrative Operations Sharon K. Tune, Coordinator Committees Debbie Ann Doyle, and Deputy Director Rob Townsend.

The division is charged with monitoring all areas of professional work within the discipline and developing advisory materials to assist historians at various stages of their careers.  We also respond to informal queries from AHA members who are seeking advice about various workplace practices.  Since we are not an investigatory body, we usually refer these members to the AHA’s Statement on Standards of Professional Conduct, available on the Association’s web site.

Members of the PD understand all too well the challenges faced by professional historians today.  Many of the AHA’s members are unemployed or underemployed.  Budget cuts have had devastating effects on graduate education and on the resources available to faculty members generally. Among the general issues we discussed this past year were the history Ph.D. as a “malleable” degree, and the need to transform graduate-education culture to reflect both the limitations and the opportunities in the job market today; the problem of assessing the work historians do and challenging the crude metrics of “productivity” offered by non-historians; and the compromises to professional integrity that in some cases accompany the merging of history departments with other departments in a university or college setting.

At its January, 2011, meeting, Council approved 1) revisions to Section 7 of the Statement on Standards and 2) the document “Telephone and Video Interviews for Academic Hiring: Some Guidelines,” which was published in the March, 2011, issue of Perspectives on History.  This document can also be found on the AHA’s web site, “Professional Issues” page.

In 2009, the PD, together with the Committee on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender History (an affiliated society of the AHA) created a joint Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Historians Task Force.  Its charge was to gather information about the concerns of LGBTQ historians and propose concrete and practical solutions for as many of those concerns as possible.  The task force conducted a survey, and is currently completing its final report.

Also in 2009, the PD joined with the Disability History Association to form a joint Task Force on Disability.  This task force had a mandate to gather information about the concerns of and challenges faced by historians with disabilities, and to propose concrete solutions for as many of those concerns and challenges as possible.  The task force completed its excellent, comprehensive report in the spring of 2011, and Council approved the report at its June meeting.  Council also approved a recommendation from the PD that the task force be reconstituted as an advisory committee for two years, to help implement as many of the recommendations as possible.  For the report and measures to implement its recommendations, see the two articles in the October 2011, issue of Perspectives on History: “Moving Forward: Disability and the AHA,” by Debbie Ann Doyle, Jacqueline Jones, and Sandy Sufian, and “Moving Beyond Accommodation:  The Work and Findings of the AHA Task Force on Disability” by Sandy Sufian and Michael Rembis.

At the June 2011 meeting, the PD recommended that Council adopt the Organization of American Historians document on “Standards for Part-Time, Adjunct, and Contingent Faculty,” and Council voted to do so.  At that meeting the Council also approved a PD recommendation that James H. Billington, Librarian of Congress, be awarded the 2011 Troyer Anderson Prize for service to the profession.

This year the PD developed a pilot program to subsidize childcare services for early-career historians (and adjuncts) who are attending the 2012 annual meeting in Chicago.  Sarah Maza and Laura Isabel Serna served as a selection subcommittee, reviewing fourteen applications.  The division was able to make twelve awards for a total of $2,200.

The PD developed a new statement for the web site of the Graduate and Early Career Committee (“Resources for History Graduate Students and Early Career Professionals”) regarding electronic publication of dissertations, reminding advanced graduate students and their supervisors to be aware of the policies of their home institutions on this issue, since such policies vary widely.

For the 2012 Annual Meeting program, the PD sponsored sessions that included an interview workshop; a session titled “Negotiating with Administrative Higher-Ups:  Challenges Faced by Department Chairs in these Perilous, Budget-Cutting Times,” followed by a luncheon for chairs; and a panel titled “Historians and Principles of Access to Archives.”

Over 1500 historians responded to the Coalition on the Academic Workforce (CAW) Survey of the Contingent Workforce, which has provided a wealth of information about historians who are part of that workforce, and the challenges they face.  Rob Townsend has analyzed data from the survey that has served as the basis of several discussions among PD members.

Sarah Maza served as PD liaison with the Committee on Women Historians, which recently conducted a survey titled Career Paths in History.  The survey was designed to determine if women faculty remain stuck at the associate professor level.  Approximately 1,200 people responded, providing information on impediments faced by women to their success and advancement in the profession.

In other actions, the PD endorsed the Society of American Archivists’ “Best Practices for Working with Archives Researchers with Physical Disabilities;,” amended the second bullet-point in the PD mission statement to read, “working to insure fair treatment of all historians, regardless of ethnicity, race, gender, sexual orientation, and/or disability….;” discussed possible panels for the 2013 annual meeting exploring the idea of the history Ph.D. as a malleable degree; updated the annual meeting site-selection policy; and voted to approve a proposal that calls for assessing a fee for the cancellation of Perspectives on History job advertisements.

On behalf of the continuing members of the division, and the entire Council, I would like to thank Sarah Maza for her exemplary service to the Association over the last three years.