Letters to the Editor

The Sins of the Fathers ...

Various Authors | Sep 1, 1992

I read with interest both E.L. Rountree's complaint of discriminatory job advertising and the Professional Division's response in the May/June issue. With all due respect, I would suggest that the Professional Division missed the point of Rountree's argument.

Rountree cited a job listing which appeared in Perspectives and which, after the customary statement of adherence to standards of equal opportunity, added a sentence strongly implying that white males would not be considered seriously for the job. I don't know what college or university placed the ad, but if that is not discrimination, I am not sure what is.

The response of the Professional Division was that since women and minorities are still underrepresented in the professional ranks of historians, "there remains a strong case for affirmative action and little support for charges of reverse discrimination." I would not dispute the first part of the statement. But the second is another matter. Does the Professional Division seriously think that until racial and gender equality (both admirable goals) are reached, it will not be discriminatory for history departments to reject white males because they are white males? Granted, the profession has discriminated in the past. But is this best rectified by senior historians (some of them beneficiaries of that very discrimination) simply shutting a large group of younger scholars out? Must the sins of the fathers thus be visited on the sons?

The Professional Division practices a subtle form of deception when basing its arguments on the gender and race breakdown of Ph.D.'s awarded between 1946 and 1988, and then labeling this "essentially the universe of employable historians." As we all know, there are far fewer Ph.D.'s awarded annually today than there were fifteen to twenty years ago. Thus, those who received their training in the 1960s and 1970s, when the profession was more dominated by white males, are overrepresented in such a sample. I could be wrong, but I suspect that most hires made today are at the junior level, meaning Ph.D.'s awarded within the last decade much better represent the universe of employable historians than those awarded between 1946 and 1988.

Rather than reading pious pronouncements about past injustices, many of us would be more interested to know the gender and race breakdown of recent Ph.D.'s compared to the gender and race breakdown of recent junior-level faculty hires. It is only with such information that one could support or refute claims that the profession currently practices any form of discrimination. Does the Professional Division record such data? If not, is it interested in doing so?

It is possible that the study of current data would show that no discrimination in hiring—either traditional or reverse—is now practiced. Many people on all sides of this debate would be interested in knowing the answers. Some form of affirmative action is doubtless still warranted, but what are its limits?

Michael Graham, Doctoral Candidate
University of Virginia

While I do not necessarily endorse the complaint against affirmative action policies that E.L. Rountree made in the May/June issue of Perspectives, the response of the Professional Division strikes me as evasive and irrelevant to the points he raised. May I make two points in illustration?

First, the Professional Division insists that the statement that "Preference will be given to applicants who can serve well an increasingly diverse University community" is "not discriminatory per se" because it does not "restrict the pool of applicants" on the basis of race, sex, etc. Now, I happen to agree that the statement is not strictly discriminatory, but only because no ethnic, racial, sexual, etc., categories are explicitly mentioned, although the coding is unambiguous. But "preference" implies the weighting of the final choice. And when the opening is for one job only, that might as well mean the exclusion of unpreferred groups. The makeup of the applicant pool is irrelevant to the actual meaning of the sentence.

Second, the statistics cited about the percentages of women and minorities in the historical profession are highly misleading, for the entire profession is not on the job market in a given year. Although Rountree did not ask for a statistical argument, the Professional Division proffered one, so let's get the right information out. And that is, what was the statistical breakdown of the body of job-seeking historians in a given year of affirmative action hiring; last year, for instance? What percentage of each ethnic and sexual category found jobs? My hunch is that a sincere effort by most universities to repair the glaring inequities of the past four decades—as cited by the Professional Division—through current hiring would result in a severe relative handicap to white male historians currently looking for work, especially if the percentage of women and minority applicants has not sharply risen to meet the increased demand. Are such statistics available? Perhaps not. But if one could show that, say, a recent male Ph.D. has half as good a chance as a recent female Ph.D. at getting any job at all, then perhaps Rountree's point—that affirmative action policies will generate hatred—has merit. Then again, one might be able to show that most colleges and universities are paying lip-service to affirmative action through their "discriminatory" advertisement. A single sentence in the blurb can ward off legal action.

I think it is vital for us to face this kind of issue head-on. If serious discrimination against young white males is an unavoidable price of undoing the traditional dominance of old white males in the historical profession, let us say so and move on. Nothing so fits the stereotype of "political correctness" as the unwillingness or inability of liberals—and I include myself among such—to engage in open discussion about the value judgments and the social costs of their vision of a just society.

Richard D. Horn
Middle-aged White Male and Doctoral Candidate
Princeton University

In response to the requests from Mr. Graham and Mr. Horn, the Professional Division provides the following data regarding gender and hiring—comparable figures regarding race and ethnicity are not available. The most recent published report from the National Research Council indicates that there is little gender difference in the hiring of new history doctorates. In 1990, 52.7 percent of male recipients reported definite employment plans compared to 55.2 percent of female recipients, but in 1989 NRC reported that the percentage of male history doctorates hired was greater than that of females (57.6 percent compared to 53.6 percent). Indeed, a survey of NRC reports for the past decade indicates no pattern in regard to gender differences and no evidence of bias in favor of women—the percentage of female history doctorates hired exceeded that of males in only four years out of ten, and the greatest gender gap was in 1981, when the percentage of men hired exceeded that of women by 12.6 percent.

It is also useful to consider this data within the larger context of all doctorates granted. While the percentages cited above may appear alarmingly low, keep in mind that for each year since 1984 the percentage of new history doctorates with definite employment plans has exceeded the percentage for all doctorates employed. Over the ten-year period reviewed, the percentage of new male history doctorates with jobs exceeded that of the larger cohort in seven years, while the percentage of new female history doctorate recipients with jobs exceeded that of the larger cohort in only four years. In sum, recent recipients of history doctorates on average appear to be faring better than their counterparts in other disciplines, and male recipients are faring even better.

In its response to Mr. Rountree's letter in the May/June issue of this newsletter, the Division did not mean to deny the possibility of reverse discrimination in hiring but rather to emphasize that such charges must be based on concrete evidence, not on how one reads a position announcement. In the absence of specific complaints or evidence, the Division's only barometer is data on hiring in the discipline, which does not support the contention that multicultural goals have distorted the employment process. The AHA and the Professional Division remain opposed to discriminatory hiring in any form and encourage those with concrete evidence and specific charges to come forward.

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