Publication Date

November 8, 2019

Perspectives Section


The AHA has spent September and October following several developing situations in legal courts, in the federal government, and at universities around the world. As an organization committed to defending the position of history in civic life, the Association maintains its commitment to taking public stances and urging actions on issues that threaten historians, the broader humanities coalition, academic freedom, and the role of history in public culture.

Joint Letter Regarding Teaching Evaluations

The AHA lent its support to the American Sociological Association’s Statement on Teaching Evaluations as a signatory. While students do have a right to influence their classroom learning experience, studies have shown that student evaluations of instructors (SEIs) are highly susceptible to bias, particularly against women and minorities, and weakly correlated with other measures of teaching effectiveness and learning outcomes. The statement strongly discourages the use of SEIs as the primary factor in faculty hiring and decisions of tenure and promotion, instead recommending other best practices for incorporating student feedback.

Amicus Brief in Pitch v. United States

In September, the Association signed on to an amicus brief in Pitch v. United States in support of the court’s original position to release grand jury records from a 1946 court case. Though grand jury records are usually kept under seal forever, the AHA agrees that these records relating to the Moore’s Ford Lynching in Walton County, Georgia, one of the last known mass lynchings in American history, can be released as a matter of unique historical significance. 

Joint Letter to United States Department of Education

In September, the Association added its name to a letter from the Middle East Studies Association in response to the US Department of Education’s rebuke of the Duke-UNC Consortium for Middle East Studies for conducting activities “unauthorized” under Title VI funding. The alarming position of the federal agency not only marks a fundamental misunderstanding of the purpose of university instruction in foreign languages and international cultures; it also constitutes an unprecedented intervention in academic curricula and the autonomy of higher education.

Amicus Brief in Department of Homeland Security v. Regents of the University of California

In collaboration with the Korematsu Center for Law and Equality (Seattle Univ.), the Organization of American Historians, and several other individual historians, the AHA backed an amicus curiae brief supporting the respondents in Department of Homeland Security v. Regents of the University of California. The filing explains the relationship between the history of anti-Mexican and Latinx racism and the use of related racist code words in the decision to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. The AHA considers it imperative for the court to be aware of the historical context of current efforts to vilify an entire racial group.

Letter Defending Emeritus Professor in India

In October, President John R. McNeill wrote to Vice Chancellor Mamidala Jagadesh Kumar of Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi to protest the university’s decision to review, and potentially rescind, Romila Thapar’s status as emeritus professor. McNeill highlighted her contributions to the field and her impressive record of achievements, including receiving the Association’s Honorary Foreign Member award in 2009.

Devon Reich is operations and marketing assistant at the AHA.

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