Letters to the Editor

Departmental Reductions: A Disturbing New Trend?

George Barany, May 1992

The sober analysis by AHA Deputy Executive Director James B. Gardner of the decline of faculty salaries in 1990–91, published in the November 1991 Perspectives (p. 1–3, 4), is important and merits further discussion.

The article correctly stresses that the "very troubling" data on history faculty salaries constitute part of a larger picture: "Clearly the nation's economic recession is having substantial impact, and the situation is not likely to improve in the short run. ..."

Let me share an example taken from my own experience. Our department of history, which had lost several positions between 1975 and 1985, still had thirteen full-time teachers three years ago. Since then, positions in (1) German and military, (2) English and British imperial, (3) Iberian and Latin American, and (4) American intellectual and Southern history have become vacant due to (early) retirement. Another position ([5] East Central Europe and Russia) will become vacant due to my own retirement at the end of this academic year. By September 1, 1992, there will be only eight members teaching full-time in the department, which has not been authorized to fill any of the positions enumerated above or any combination thereof.

Consequently, as of July 1, 1992, my university, with about 7,200 students, more than half of whom are in graduate studies, will have no teacher of the modern history covering the areas from the British Isles across the Eurasian continent to the Pacific Ocean, with the exception of France and China. German unification has become a fact of enormous economic and international implication, while high school and even junior high school students have begun to wear armbands with swastikas in six school districts of the State of Colorado in recent months; yet for over three years there has been no search to replace the colleague who had taught German history. Our single largest ethnic minority is of Hispanic background; yet there is no search for a permanent replacement of our former teacher of Spanish and Latin American history. The same holds true for the vacancy in English history, for the benefit of our American studies, also truncated most recently.

Such drastic and disproportionate reductions in both numbers of full-time teachers and fields taught in a relatively small department of history is demoralizing, particularly in the absence of a financial exigency. Students, "surviving" teachers, and the school itself are bound to suffer the consequences of such disruption of normal procedures. I should like to hope that what has been happening at my university is not representative of major trends nationwide, but I fear it is.

When I first joined the faculty in September 1960, I also joined the AHA, and have been an active member since. I should like to submit the statement above for the consideration of the entire membership, to find out whether the sad pattern observed at my own institution happens to be unique, or whether it has also emerged at other institutions of higher learning. The membership, especially the Professional Division of the AHA, may also wish to discuss what should be done in order to stop this incipient trend of the erosion of history positions, i.e., if it occurs on the national scene. I happen to believe that inquiries and suggestions coming from high officials of the AHA should be treated by administrators with the same attention and courtesy with which they treat the caveats of the American Bar Association whenever our law school is evaluated.

George Barany
Professor of History
University of Denver