Publication Date

August 5, 2008

Perspectives Section

AHA Activities

In the Statement on Standards of Professional Conduct the American Historical Association promotes fairness and due process in all decisions involving the appointment, promotion, and working conditions of historiansWith all the recent attention being paid to the hiring process (see, for example, the Sterling Fluharty and Claire Potter articles linked in the last “What We’re Reading,” or this article from Friday’s Inside Higher Ed, we thought it would be appropriate to remind readers of the AHA’s recommendations for the hiring process.

Pertinent to the hiring discussion is Section 7 of the AHA’s Statement on Standards of Professional Conduct, where the AHA promotes “fairness and due process in all decisions involving the appointment, promotion, and working conditions of historians.” The following four paragraphs spell out what that means:

Fairness begins with recruitment. Historians have an obligation to do all possible to ensure that employment opportunities in the field are widely publicized and that all professionally qualified persons have an equal opportunity to compete for those positions. This means not only the placement of job notices in appropriate publications (for example, the AHA’s Perspectives [on History]) but also the inclusion in such notices of a completely accurate description of the position and of any contingencies, budgetary or otherwise, that might affect the continued availability of the position. An institution should not deceive possible candidates by omitting qualifications or characteristics that favor certain candidates over others (for example, a preference for unspecified minor fields). If an employer decides to alter a job description or selection criteria, the institution should re-advertise.

Fairness also involves equal treatment of all qualified applicants and procedures that are considerate to all applicants. For example, an employing institution should promptly acknowledge all applications and, as soon as practicable, inform applicants who do not meet the selection criteria. Likewise, it should keep competitive applicants informed of the progress of the search and promptly notify those who are no longer under consideration. It should do everything possible to accommodate finalists in arranging interviews, including the payment of expenses, where appropriate. Finally, it should ensure that those who conduct interviews adhere to professional standards by respecting the dignity of candidates, focusing their questions on the qualifications needed for the position, and avoiding questions that violate federal or state antidiscrimination laws.

Employment decisions always involve judgments. But, except in those cases in which federal law allows a specific preference, institutions should base hiring decisions as well as all decisions relating to reappointment, promotion, tenure, apprenticeship, graduate student assistantships, awards, and fellowships solely on professional qualifications without regard to sex, race, color, national origin, sexual orientation, religion, political affiliation, veteran status, age, certain physical handicaps, or marital status. A written contract should follow a verbal offer in a timely manner, and institutions have an obligation to explain as clearly as possible the terms of such contracts. Once signed, a contract should be honored by all parties as both a legal and ethical obligation. Employers have an obligation to clarify all rules and conditions governing employment and promotion.

Once employed, any person deserves the professional respect and support necessary for professional growth and advancement. Such respect precludes unequal treatment based on any nonprofessional criteria. In particular, it precludes any harassment or discrimination, which is unethical, unprofessional, and threatening to intellectual freedom. Harassment includes all behavior that prevents or impairs an individual’s full enjoyment of educational or workplace rights, benefits, environment, or opportunities, such as generalized pejorative remarks or behavior or the use of professional authority to emphasize inappropriately the personal identity of an individual. Sexual harassment, which includes inappropriate requests for sexual favors, unwanted sexual advances, and sexual assaults, is illegal and violates professional standards. (emphasis in original)

Also from the Professional Division, search committees and candidates should read “Guidelines for Job Offers in History,” adopted at the January 2007 annual meeting, which addresses some of the concerns raised about the increasing speed of the hiring process (it states, for example, that candidates should be given at least two weeks to consider a formal offer). Two articles from the pages of Perspectives on History, Practical Advice for Treating Job Candidates” (November 2007) and Mary Lindemann’s “Best Practices for Interviewers,” (October 2006), should also be helpful.

Readers might also be interested in the document “Guidelines for the Hiring Process,” (PDF), which is given to interviewing institutions each year at the Job Center (formerly Job Register). It nicely encapsulates much of the information contained in the documents linked above.

This post first appeared on AHA Today.

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