Publication Date

December 1, 1996

Editor's Note: The following statement was drafted by the AHA's Professional Division and approved by the Association's Council at its June 1-2, 1996, meeting. The Advisory Opinion is an addition to the Statement on Standards of Professional Conduct. If you would like a complete copy of the Statement, please contact Sharon K. Tune, Assistant Director, Administration, American Historical Association, 400 A St., SE, Washington, DC 20003-3889, or visit the AHA's home page at

The AHA's Professional Division has found troubling evidence of age discrimination within the history profession. The division is particularly concerned about discrimination against older applicants in both position announcements and in the hiring process. More specifically, the division is concerned about departments trying to narrow the applicant pool through the use of age-restrictive criteria in job descriptions or arbitrarily eliminating otherwise qualified candidates because of age. No one should be denied the opportunity to pursue a career in history because of his or her age.

When a department or institution decides to confine its search to younger applicants, it discriminates against two groups. One is made up of older individuals who earned their doctorates during the job shortages of the 1970s and 1980s, have since held a variety of temporary and part-time positions, and are interested in entry-level positions that offer the possibility of tenured status. While their teaching experience and often impressive publications might be expected to give them an advantage in the search process, they sometimes find themselves dismissed without interviews as "overqualified." The other group that suffers age discrimination is made up of those who have earned their degrees later in life and thus are recent Ph.D.'s but no longer young. Such candidates have received the same training as their younger colleagues, and have benefited from more extensive life experience; yet search committees sometime tend to be biased against those whose lives do not fit traditional patterns. By eliminating well-qualified candidates simply because of age, search committees lose valuable opportunities to enrich their departments and institutions.

The Professional Division opposes the use of hiring criteria that discriminate against qualified candidates on the basis of age. The use of such criteria at any stage in the search and hiring process is unprofessional and may constitute age discrimination, which is illegal.

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