Viewpoints

The AHA Job Market Revisited

Clara M. Lovett, March 1993

Throughout the country, campus leaders, legislators, alumni, and trustees are thinking about faculty and faculty roles. They are also listening to faculty voices to understand how faculty see themselves, their work, and their institutions. Institutional needs are changing and so are public expectations. The desire to learn more about these issues led me to visit the Professional Division's workshop for academic job seekers at the 1992 Annual Meeting. The workshop was well attended and lively. Workshop leaders were enthusiastic, committed, and helpful. The experience brought back bittersweet memories of the 1971 Annual Meeting in Boston—my own encounter with the job market for fresh Ph.D. historians.

The way we are now is definitely not the way we were. Vive la difference! In 1992, more than a third of workshop participants were women; each discussion group had one or more minority participants; there were older men and women in the group of job seekers. Workshop leaders set a tone of friendliness and openness that encouraged everyone to ask questions. There was much discussion of teaching roles and teaching styles—a healthy recognition that four-year colleges and regional universities employ many more historians than do the research universities. Mock interviews had the participants learning from one another and sharing humor and insights. As I moved from group to group in the ballroom I felt proud of my profession. Since I joined in the late 1960s, the AHA has become a more open, caring, intellectually richer organization.

Yet on this happy occasion ghosts of job markets past kept reappearing. Why, I thought, are we coaching our young colleagues only to seek employment in colleges and universities? Did we not learn in the 1970s that historians can do exciting things outside the academy? Even if academic jobs were plentiful (and they aren't), are we not limiting our horizons, to the detriment not only of our profession but of a culture that badly needs a sense of history? We have learned, not without pain, to value and celebrate diversity of gender and race in our profession. We still seem unable to embrace diversity in professional roles.

I was troubled, too, by the naivete of many participants, though I am glad they felt free to ask naive questions. Many participants had never put together a curriculum vitae; most did not seem to know what colleges and universities expect of their faculty. A majority of participants had some teaching experience but only a few had been mentored by senior colleagues and perhaps two or three appreciated the value of teaching portfolios. In short, this batch of aspiring history professors did not seem much better prepared to face the market than I was twenty-one years ago.

I applaud the AHA leadership for taking responsibility for its younger members, for making the annual job market more accessible and much more civil than it used to be. But how many Ph.D.-granting departments out there are following the AHA's good example? On many campuses history faculties are still doing what they were doing in the 1970s, holding on for reasons of prestige to marginal programs, socializing graduate students to become competitive lone wolf researchers, cloning themselves.

The striking difference between the job market of the early 1970s and the job market of 1992 is the participation of women and minorities in the profession. Will the job market of 2012 reflect an AHA transformed by the acceptance and celebration of a broader, more generous view of professional roles for historians, regardless of age, gender, race, or specialization?

—Clara M. Lovett is professor of modern European history and former provost of George Mason University. She is currently on leave, serving as director of the National Forum on Faculty Roles and Rewards at the American Association for Higher Education in Washington, D.C.