The Profession

CMH Issues Best Practices Guide on Equity for Minority Historians in the Academic Workplace

Committee on Minority Historians, October 2007

To Deans, Department Chairs, Administrators, and Faculty:

This letter introduces “Equity for Minority Historians in the Academic History Workplace: A Guide to Best Practices,” written by the Committee on Minority Historians (CMH) of the American Historical Association and intended to guide the decisions and inform the practices of deans, department chairs, and senior administrators in universities and colleges. We also hope that it will serve as a resource for all historians, regardless of their rank.

A recent Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation report concluded that despite decades-long national efforts, African Americans, Hispanics, and Native Americans still are significantly underrepresented as recipients of PhDs in the United States. Even though they comprise 32 percent of all U.S. citizens in the typical age range (25–40) of PhD candidates, they account for only 7 percent of all doctoral recipients. Indeed, the Woodrow Wilson Foundation describes this situation as a national crisis: “While the next generation of college students will include dramatically more students of color, their teachers will remain overwhelmingly white,” with “the continuing near-exclusion of a third of our population from intellectual leadership.”

The situation in the field of history provides little room for comfort. Despite modest gains during the 1970s, these percentages have not increased during the last 20 years, and in some cases, the actual numbers of minority faculty in history departments have fallen. This state of affairs is likely to grow worse, as the small numbers of faculty of color make it harder to recruit graduate students of color. And fewer minority graduate students in history will mean even fewer minority faculty in the field.

Continuous effort and new approaches by all professional historians clearly are required to resolve this crisis and improve on these numbers. Of special importance is the help of deans, department chairs, and senior administrators, as they have the capacity to shape both institutional culture and professional practices. Our guiding principle here is equity, so even though our main focus is on long-term change that will achieve equity for minority historians, many of our guidelines apply to all historians. We also recognize that each academic institution has its own mission and therefore not all of our guidelines will be suitable for every institution. Still, we urge you to embrace the spirit of our guidelines and use them to bring equity to minority historians at your institution. Each of you is important to creating an equitable historical profession, and you can do this by encouraging a promising undergraduate, helping a minority graduate student succeed, guiding a junior faculty member through tenure, and mentoring a tenured minority faculty member as he or she launches a fulfilling career.

Sincerely,

Donald Grinde (SUNY-Buffalo),
Chair, Committee on Minority Historians