The Economic Freeze on History
More than two-thirds of history departments are experiencing budget cuts that have "required real reductions in resources, faculty and staff," according to a survey released Friday by the American Historical Association.
The AHA sent surveys to 110 departments and received responses from 63, in an attempt to measure the impact the current economic downturn is having. Only five departments reported being relatively untouched, and another 15 characterized their cuts as "modest." (Those two groups generally assumed things were about to get worse.) Most departments already saw the cuts as significant.
Citing the anxieties in many departments about their relative position within their institutions, the AHA did not identify any of the colleges or universities involved. But the report on the survey said that "[g]iven the range of programs surveyed, and their spread across the country, the effects of the cuts seemed remarkably consistent."
Among those impacts:
Hiring: Most departments reported freezes on hiring, although some said that they were still hoping for selected openings to be approved. Faculty members are seeing larger classes as a result of having fewer scholars available to teach. "A significant number noted that they currently have a backlog of unfilled faculty lines in their department as faculty have retired or left over the past few years -- some reported losses of as much as 10 percent of their departments’ tenure-line faculty. Among the departments that are continuing to hire, a significant number said they were often only adding short-term visiting faculty to plug holes in their subject coverage," the AHA study said. "A few noted that critical subject areas, including large periods of American history, could not be taught due to the lack of faculty to teach the subject. Others noted that specialized subject areas that had been traditional strengths of their departments had been weakened (and in one case simply eliminated) as specialists in those subjects retired and were not being replaced."
Graduate students and teaching assistants: Those departments with graduate programs generally said that they had cut slots for students, and that that was having a notable impact on the use of graduate students as teaching assistants. "For a number of graduate departments, it appeared that these cuts have highlighted their dependence on teaching assistants. As one chair conceded, 'we have fewer grad lines, which means bigger classes.' "
Salaries: Most departments reported salary freezes, and those with significant furloughs said that professors were experiencing real declines in income.
Other cuts: The survey found that other cuts included non-academic staff positions, travel, and supplies (especially paper).
The report on the study -- by Robert Townsend, the AHA’s assistant director for research and publications -- suggested that the job of chairing a department has clearly become much more difficult. and that the cuts are also having a negative impact on campus culture.
While noting that most departments acknowledged that the cuts don't single out history, "a few of the respondents noted that economic problems at the institutional level were exacerbating traditional tensions between the hard sciences and the humanities fields. As one chair noted, 'Academic cultures among faculty on campus are becoming more fractured and polarized as the fight for resources deepens -- that for me is the most disheartening.' "