AHA Today , From the Professional Division

Advisory Response from the Professional Division

Robert B. Townsend | Aug 26, 2008

In response to a history department chair feeling pressure from his administration to count grant funding the same as an article in a peer reviewed journal, vice president David Weber, after consultation with the full Division, offered the following advisory response:

“In the case of individual scholars, receipt of a competitively awarded fellowship or grant is certainly an honor and usually a sign of worthy past achievement and of scholarly promise. The winner of such an award deserves recognition by that scholar’s employer. But past achievement is past and scholarly promise is not scholarship. The fulfillment of promise becomes apparent only with the completion of a project–usually a manuscript or publication. Some grants may also be awarded to individuals or groups for projects that disseminate scholarship and that result in program development, civic engagement, community outreach, or innovations in teaching. In these cases, too, it is the results that count-not the means to achieve the results. I think we all know senior scholars who have received fellowships for specific projects but who failed to complete them. I once had a colleague who received a coveted Guggenheim to finish a book. He never did.

Grant monies in the humanities are notoriously tight, and the major competitions receive many hundreds, or even thousands, of applications every year. This means that in a given year, large numbers of high-quality, deserving applications are rejected. Should a scholar who tries for a prestigious grant and narrowly misses out, or is named an alternate, be penalized in the same way as his/her colleagues who never even bother with grant applications? More generally, counting grants in this way seems to be part of an ongoing effort within many institutions of higher education to quantify as many features of an academic career as possible in the process of evaluating faculty members for merit raises and promotions. The Professional Division believes that unchecked quantification should be resisted in the historical discipline and in the humanities as a whole, where evaluation of scholarship is of necessity largely qualitative. How a fellowship or grant should count in a dossier should necessarily vary with the scholar, the project, and the goals of an institution.”

This is only an advisory response from the Professional Division at this time, since this is the first such case reported to the AHA. If members know of other departments receiving similar pressure, or where college or university administrations are considering similar policies, please notify AHA staff.

This post first appeared on AHA Today.

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