From the Executive Director's column in the September 2002 Perspectives
On Surveys and Other Summer Deeds
Arnita R. Jones, September 2002
Many readers of Perspectives may have noticed that they have lately been receiving an increased level of electronic inquiries and surveys from the AHA. Our new membership database and related technological developments allow us to "talk" with members this way more readily. We anticipate that these electronic conversations will not only benefit many special initiatives and needs but will also allow us to get better feedback on how well we are serving members' interests and needs. For example, the Committee on Women Historians, which is close to completion of an ambitious publication series, has now begun to focus its attention on professional issues. Last spring the committee surveyed women members of the Association and is now analyzing data from several hundred responses. The resulting report will be made available later this year and also circulated to department chairs. The Committee on Minority Historians will undertake a similar effort this fall.
Graduate students have been a particular focus of attention, both because of the work of the AHA's new Committee for Graduate Students (CGS), which emerged out of the former Task Force on Graduate Education, and that of the ad hoc Committee on Graduate Education (CGE), which is beginning to shape a first draft of its report to the profession. The CGS surveyed graduate student members last year and this fall plans to update that survey with a more public query on H-Grad. In an effort to complement the large departmental survey administered in 2001 and to obtain the perspectives of current students on the challenges facing graduate education in history, the CGE sent-by e-mail-a survey to graduate student members of the AHA last May. The CGE, in cooperation with the Task Force on Public History, will query employers of public historians later this fall.
The AHA-OAH Joint Committee on Part-Time and Adjunct Employment surveyed members of the Association who were teaching part time last spring, to learn more about the conditions of their work and the ways in which problems created by institutions' excessive or inappropriate use of part-time employment can be addressed by the AHA. The joint committee's work is critical also to informing AHA's efforts as a member of the Coalition on the Academic Work Force, a consortium of humanities and other professional associations that is trying to make higher education institutions, accrediting associations and the general public more aware of the problems that are created by the erosion of full-time faculty positions. The coalition has been invited by the Association of American Colleges and Universities to convene several sessions at its meeting in Seattle in January 2003 to discuss and highlight the impact of this trend on student learning and retention.
The 2003 AHA annual meeting in Chicago is shaping up well. Exhibit booths sold out so fast that we have had to open up additional space to accommodate the need. The local arrangements chair and committee have lined up an attractive set of walking and other tours in the city and will be providing other material over the next few months to enhance the meeting experience for members. A new feature of the meeting this year will be seen in the 2003 Program Committee's successful implementation of an innovative Council idea-the development, in cooperation with the AHA president, of six sessions showcasing the work of senior scholars. A special session scheduled for Thursday, January 3, will highlight the work of the Committee on Graduate Education, with Thomas Bender presenting the first findings from the study. The session will also feature reports on efforts at reshaping graduate education now underway at the Woodrow Wilson Foundation, the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, and the National Research Council. The latter is now beginning to prepare for the decennial ranking (scheduled for 2005) of graduate departments and is studying ways in which the criteria for ranking may need to be adjusted or augmented (see news item on page 5).
In August Michael Grossberg, editor of the American Historical Review, Robert Townsend, AHA assistant director for research, publications, and information systems, and I attended a meeting of the History Cooperative. This collaborative effort began nearly three years ago, as a way of making issues of the AHR available in electronic form at no additional cost to members; but it has become much more than that (see news item on page 6 for a report on the new developments).
Finally, the AHA continues to work hard on a number of different levels to see that full advantage is taken of the momentum generated by the "Teaching American History" grants sponsored by Senator Byrd. Partnering with the Organization of American Historians, the National Council for Social Studies, and the School of Education at Indiana University, we have commissioned a study of precollegiate education in the 50 states. Researcher Sarah Drake will collect information on certification requirements for history teachers, history standards and assessment tests, graduate requirements, and statewide resources for teachers; results will be disseminated at meetings of partner associations and to policymakers and the public. A related project will be an "Innovations in Collaboration" conference to be held in June 2003 bringing together participants in Teaching American History grants and others who have been involved in or are interested in school/university collaborative efforts. Also scheduled is a meeting of a small working group of specialists to help in the development of benchmarks for professional development programs for history teachers.
—Arnita Jones is executive director of the AHA.