The Kunz Tenure Decision at Yale: "Utterly Inexplicable"

Susan W. Gillespie, January 1998

Eminent diplomatic historian Diane Kunz's two-year battle for tenure at Yale University came to an end in October, when a humanities Senior Appointments Committee rejected her appeal with a vote of eight against, two for, and one abstention. In an interview with Perspectives, Kunz spoke candidly about her own situation, the structure of the tenure-review system at Yale, and the role of women in predominantly "male" fields such as her specialty of diplomatic history. "I do not maintain that tenure at Yale University is a right," she said. "But the only issue before the Senior Appointments Committee was whether I had met the qualifications for tenure at Yale. That I had done."

Unlike many universities, Yale does not offer tenure-track assistant professorships. According to Professor Paul Kennedy, after a seven-year appointment, an assistant professor can only be assessed for tenure by the department if the provost has provided a tenured slot in the department. Kunz was eligible for this assessment in spring 1996, when her department approved her by a two-thirds majority. However, in an era of downsizing and restructuring, Kennedy said, the department lacked a tenured position for a diplomatic historian. The department hoped to place her in the tenure line held by Gaddis Smith, who is currently working on a history of Yale for its tercentenary in 2001. It is a fairly common practice to "mortgage" tenure lines of faculty working on other projects or approaching retirement.

Kunz, however, believes that despite the department's plan, she had no chance at tenure from the start. "I was set up," she said. "The deck was stacked against me." In her opinion, the fight was lost before it began, stemming from the appointment of diplomatic historian John Lewis Gaddis as the Robert A. Lovett Professor of Military and Naval History soon after her initial tenure assessment by the department. At that time, Kunz believes, university administrators decided that the department did not need three diplomatic historians, which left her, as the only nontenured department member in the field, in a vulnerable position.

Both Kennedy and Gaddis emphasized that the combination of Gaddis, who specializes in diplomatic and military history; Smith, who emphasizes the Cold War; and Kunz, with a focus on economic and financial diplomatic history, would have made Yale the place to study 20th-century diplomatic history. "With Diane Kunz, we would have had the greatest center for doing diplomatic history in the country," said Kennedy. Gaddis's appointment was in no way meant to rob Kunz of her tenure bid. "We wanted the best person for the job," Kennedy said of the appointment.

Gaddis, too, spoke of the outstanding diplomatic history faculty Yale could have had, and reiterated his support of and respect for Kunz in an online interview with Perspectives. "Diane Kunz clearly deserved tenure at Yale," he said. "The action of the Senior Appointments Committee was utterly inexplicable to me--and, I might add, a great disappointment, because part of the attraction of coming to Yale had been the prospect of having her as a colleague." Gaddis, aware of potential problems that his nomination could cause, made it clear to administrators before accepting the position that his appointment should not deny Kunz her tenure. "I hold nothing against John Gaddis over this situation," Kunz said. "He has been nothing but supportive during the last year."

Last April, a humanities Senior Appointments Committee of 11 members, including one member of the history department, denied Kunz tenure despite the recommendation of her colleagues. "I had no chance for tenure, but they [administrators] could not deny it at the department level," said Kunz. "The department must keep minutes of its meetings, and it can be required to make public its grounds for a decision. The Senior Appointments Committee does not keep minutes, and does not have to disclose anything." She added that Yale has no guidelines for the composition of the committee.

The committee's decision was met with anger and outrage by Kunz's colleagues, both at Yale and at other institutions, and also by her students. During her eight years in the department, she had helped to establish an international studies program and served as its undergraduate adviser. She received overwhelmingly positive teaching evaluations and was widely published; Butter and Guns: America's Cold War Economic Diplomacy, her most recent book, was published by Free Press in 1997. Only 3 of her 11 external recommenders were able to secure proofs of this book before her initial tenure review in April. Both Kunz and Kennedy believe that this may have hurt her chances, as she was being evaluated as a senior historian without the benefit of her most recent work.

In May, following the publication of Butter and Guns, the provost asked the Senior Appointments Committee to reevaluate Kunz's case--an almost unprecedented move. Twelve diplomatic historians wrote letters on her behalf, and reviews of Butter and Guns, which had been unavailable during the first review, were also submitted. Both Gaddis and Kennedy view this unusual move by the university as overwhelmingly supportive of Kunz and of Yale's diplomatic history program. "The administration badly wanted this appointment to go through, hence its willingness to authorize an extraordinary reconsideration of the initially negative vote in the Senior Appointments Committee," said Gaddis. Kennedy agreed, adding that "the provost wanted to give Diane the fairest possible chance, and to increase the number of women with tenure." But the Senior Appointments Committee again issued a recommendation against granting Kunz tenure.

Kunz believes, however, that this move by the university was simply to silence its critics, and that administrators never intended to reconsider her for tenure. "The key for me was those letters," said Kunz. "There were 12 letters, unanimous and powerful, and yet their voices were thrown aside. There was no justification for this decision. It was fixed all along."

Kennedy offered two hypotheses on the committee's decision. "It is very rare for the Senior Appointments Committee to be questioned, and their vote could have been a message to the provost's office to mind its own business," he said. Or, "it could have been political, stemming from members of the humanities committee who had little interest in international affairs. We will never know," he said, "but the committee is there to make a judgment on scholarship, not on departmental needs."

Though Kunz feels that her case was decided primarily on the grounds of department dynamics and university politics, she also believes that specializing in traditionally "male" history was a strike against her. She said that while women doing women's history are accepted and welcomed into the profession, women doing men's history are not. "Men resent you for being in a man's field, but women doing women's or social history will not fight for you. There are apparently different sets of rules for women who do women's history and women who do men's history." She went on to say cases such as hers "make a mockery of the university tenure practices for qualified women. This is going to keep happening until you have enough women with tenure so that gender does not make a difference."

With her two-year battle behind her, Kunz is uncertain of her next move, though she intends to continue her scholarly research and writing. Reflecting on what has transpired since 1996, she said that "my greatest regret is that I wanted to keep teaching Yale students and associating with Yale colleagues who I worked with so well for so long."