Publication Date

February 1, 1988

Perspectives Section

Letters to the Editor

Dear Professor Huffman:

Ruth Waters of our Fellowship Office has passed along your letter to Samuel Gammon at the American Historical Association. I hasten to respond to it because it raises issues that we at the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) take very seriously.

As Ms. Waters pointed out to you in her letter of June 16, the number of scholars associated with two-year colleges who applied to the ACLS Grants-in-Aid Program accounts for less than one percent of all our applications in the last five years. This is hardly an adequate sample for either of us to make reasonable judgments about either the explicit or de facto practices of ACLS with regard to applicants from two-year institutions. I confess to a certain chagrin at discovering that not one of the nineteen applicants received funding, but I do not ascribe that fact to discriminatory policies or practices.

Having said that, however, I also want to say something about what our explicit policies are. In determining which applications will be acted upon favorably, we rely upon the advice of panels of senior scholars. They read the applications with great care, evaluate them as meticulously as they can, and come to some agreement about which applications, in an always strong group, ought to receive funding. The only instructions that these scholars receive from ACLS staff are that they are to do their best to select the very best applications they can. We have a strict policy of not discriminating against scholars on any basis at all, including the kind of institution at which they are employed. Indeed, we are quite self-conscious in telling our panels that they ought to pay as little attention as possible to the nature of an applicant’s employment. All of the evaluative emphasis is placed upon the application itself and the supporting letters of reference. I am quite sure, therefore, that our policies do not in any way explicitly discriminate against qualified scholars like yourself who teach at two-year institutions.

Still, I recognize that an organization like ACLS is responsible to the members of its constituent societies and that we may appear sometimes to be a distant and closed institution with little interest in people like yourself who labor under enormous teaching burdens and continue nonetheless to produce distinguished scholarly work. I do not know what I can do to erase that impression except to say that Stanley Katz, the president of ACLS, as well as the ACLS Board have tried to impress upon all of our selection committees the need to handle applications with as much impartiality as they possibly can. In my capacity as vice president, I try to reinforce that view at the meetings of the various selection committees. Beyond that, I can only assure you that we will redouble our efforts this year and that every application from a person teaching at a two-year institution will receive full consideration.

While I know that letters like this one can scarcely vitiate your complaint in any concrete way, I hope that you will not hesitate to apply to ACLS programs in the future. We have frequently given awards in all of our programs to persons holding degrees from southern universities and also to people who hold no academic appointment at all. If we have discriminated against persons teaching at two-year institutions, it has been in spite of our conscious policies rather than because of them. I can only pledge that we will do our best to continue to be as fair as we possibly can in judging the applications of all those who apply to our programs of grants and fellowships. Thank you for writing.

Douglas Greenberg
Vice President, ACLS

Huffman Replies

Dear Mr. Greenberg:

Thank you for your very candid letter about the ACLS selection process.

I agree that your selection panels probably do not deliberately discriminate against those of us employed at two-year institutions of higher education. As a former member of the Board of Directors of the Georgia Endowment for the Humanities, I am well aware of the differences among applications. It is indeed difficult not to be impressed with big-name professionals and research programs that are large in scope and extensive in application.

For this very reason, those of us living in smaller towns and affiliated with colleges that have very limited library resources are at a distinct disadvantage. Our research proposals must either be more limited in scope or require a long time to come to fruition.

We face a similar problem with letters of reference. Most of the professors under whom I studied are retired—several are no longer living—and none of my colleagues here at Macon Junior College have research interests similar to mine. In fact, all are Americanists. There is only one person at my college, a specialist in Victorian literature, who is truly knowledgeable about my work, and she, like myself, is not likely to be well known to your scholars.

Professionally speaking, I have been quite active in the Georgia Association of Historians and have had the honor of serving as president of the organization—the first woman to do so. Yet this activity hardly ranks with that of holding a minor post in the American Historical Association.

Thus, I know the difficulties under which your selection committees labor. I can only expect you to make a conscious effort to understand the problems facing those of us employed at junior colleges.

Thank you for your very prompt letter. I was heartened to learn that you do seem to care about those of us on the lowest rungs of the academic ladder.

Joan B. Huffman, Ph.D.
Macon Junior College