Published Date

March 5, 1974

From the Report of the AHA Committee on the Rights of Historians (1974)



Since the AHA Council requested the Committee to “receive and solicit reports of individual instances or allegations of the violation of the rights of teachers and students of history,” the Committee sent a form letter to individuals who were reported to have personal knowledge of the violation of the rights of a historian, asking for a brief narrative and supporting documentation. The letter asked specifically “how the procedures in the case deviate from the normal practice at the institution in question, what assistance was sought from outside groups (e.g., AAUP, ACLU), and what action these groups took.” It also asked for an opinion as to what the AHA “might do to be of help” in such cases.

The Committee has information on thirty-eight cases. As used here the word case is roughly synonymous with complaint or allegation. Of the thirty-eight cases for which the Committee has case histories, most occurred from 1967 through 1972, and five between 1962 and 1967. One case alleges violations beginning in 1942. The number thirty-eight is somewhat misleading, since several cases involve departments in which a number of individuals were not renewed. Several individuals, moreover, allege violations of their rights at more than one institution. One outstanding case alleges non-appointment on political grounds at eleven institutions; another involves an individual who was not renewed at two places and not hired at a third. Thus, if all the individuals involved are counted the total is thirty-three. In all, about fifty institutions were involved.

The Committee has also received about eighty claims of cases on the questionnaire distributed by the AHA. A few of these are signed and identify the institution at which the violation allegedly occurred, but most are unsigned, describe unnamed schools, and are undocumented. Appendix B contains excerpts from these statements. These claims are not analyzed in the report that follows.

The Committee is painfully aware of the limitations of the evidence, even in the full case histories. First, it is for the most part supplied by only one side to the dispute. In conformity with the instructions of the Council, the Committee made no effort to obtain evidence from the other side, either from interested or disinterested parties. Nevertheless, many of the individuals who communicated with the Committee provided documentation presenting some of the perspectives of the other side, and for six cases there are published reports of full-scale investigations by Committee A of the AAUP.

Second, the quality of the evidence varies from only the briefest statement from an individual to full sets of documents and corroborating materials, including newspaper and magazine articles. The evidence in about half the cases falls between these two extremes. Although mindful of the problems posed by the nature of the evidence at its disposal, the Committee believes that the evidence permits an analysis of grievances felt by historians. [Sections of the report describing individual cases that the committee investigated have been omitted to protect the privacy of the individuals involved. The omitted pages concern brief categorizations of the aspects of five initial appointment cases, six cases of dismissal before the end of a contract, twenty-one cases stemming from the non-renewal of probationary appointments, five reports of departmental conflict so extensive that a large-scale exodus ensued and numerous points of conflict were apparently involved, three cases of alleged improper interference with the content of a course, two cases of governmental rights and privileges being withdrawn in a discriminatory way, and two individuals who felt that private foundations and institutes were illegitimately discriminatory in making their awards. The causes of the cases vary. Political activity and advocacy, grading standards, educational philosophy, the use of adverse student evaluations, modes of dress and behavior, and a change in one’s field of scholarly specialization are all alleged to have stimulated violations of academic freedom. No type of institution holds a monopoly on the violations brought to our attention in these individual cases, and historians appear among the oppressors as well as among the victims.]


  1. The statements presented to the Committee provide evidence of a problem of serious proportions confronting the profession
  2. The aggrieved, i.e., those who believe their rights have been violated, are varied in background. Political radicals, as might be expected, figure prominently, yet they constitute a minority of all cases. The typical “victim” is more likely to be a young scholar who clashes with an “old guard” over a variety of educational and scholarly issues and suffers because of arbitrary governance and the absence of due process. A number of comments on the questionnaires (printed in Appendix B) suggest many perceive a “liberal” establishment at many institutions which discriminates against political conservatives. There are, however, few “conservative” victims save for a few whose academic standards, particularly grading procedures, might put them in that category.
  3. The statements demonstrate that any case affects many more historians than the individual victim. In appointment cases the judgments of entire departments are overridden. In the “total department situations” departments are racked by controversy, low morale, and constant changes in personnel.
  4. Most of the cases reported to the Committee were not resolved to the satisfaction of the individuals concerned. Most in fact were not resolved at all. Many individuals have gone on to other jobs, but many have not, and some consider themselves “blacklisted.”
  5. The AAUP, the single organization most looked to by historians to protect academic freedom, was effective in some types of cases, but was ineffective or did not function in other types of cases. The dismissal cases reported to the Committee were almost all taken up by AAUP with positive results. The AAUP functions well on what the report has called “traditional” cases, in which outside or administrative pressure is brought to bear against an individual or department: On the other hand the cases received by the Committee suggest there is no AAUP presence on appointments and that the AAUP is perceived by the complainants as inadequate to deal with the “newer” types of cases involving such issues as educational radicalism and questions of politics and scholarship. In these cases the aggrieved apparently assume that the AAUP might be on “the other side” or would not be interested. Many of these cases are fraught with significance for the historical profession.

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