Steve Cicala, an assistant professor of economics at the University of Chicago, says he has canceled the lecture he was scheduled to deliver to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign's College of Business next month. In a letter to Illinois Chancellor Phyllis Wise, Cicala calls Wise's stated reasons for pulling controversial scholar Steven Salaita's tenured job offer in the American Indian studies program weeks before the start of school -- namely that Salaita's anti-Israel remarks on Twitter were "uncivil" -- a "fig leaf" for other concerns. Cicala says he can't support the fact that Wise's decision may have been influenced by donors who emailed her about their concerns about Salaita before she made her decision to revoke his offer.
"I understand that you are in a difficult position," Cicala wrote. "It's quite easy for people like me to take potshots from the moral high ground without having to ensure sufficient funds to keep the lights on. I urge you to consider the long-term damage wrought by gutting the guarantee of inquiry free from outside interference. It far exceeds any short-term gain in donations from donors who don't understand the difference between a university and a political action committee."
Cicala sent his letter late last week, but has not heard back from Wise, he said. A spokeswoman for Illinois did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Cicala said he hopes more economists will join the Illinois boycott movement stemming from the Salaita decision.
Adjuncts at the College of Saint Rose, in Albany, N.Y., have voted to form a union affiliated with the Service Employees International Union. The union has organized some 21,000 adjuncts across the U.S. as part of its Adjunct Action campaign. At Saint Rose, the vote was 175 to 61. Bradley Russell, an adjunct instructor of anthropology and member of the organizing committee, called the vote "historic," saying that Saint Rose had taken "a step to live up to its well-known commitment to social justice."
In a statement, Saint Rose officials said: "The issues surrounding the role of adjunct faculty in our nation’s colleges and universities is one that deserves national discussion and dialogue, and we thank our faculty for taking a role in propelling the conversation. Currently, approximately 70 percent of the undergraduate and graduate credits at Saint Rose are taught by full-time faculty and 30 percent are taught by adjunct faculty who bring a wealth of professional experience into the classroom. As the collective bargaining process gets underway, we will continue to work together to move Saint Rose forward and to provide excellence in teaching and mentoring to our students in and outside the classroom."
University of Delaware officials confirmed that Eric Tranby, an assistant professor of sociology, is on leave and is expected to resign following allegations of sexual harassment, The News Journal reported. About 300 people rallied Friday at Delaware, criticizing the university for not being more open about why Transby has been placed on leave. The rally followed an article in The Review, the student newspaper, that said that Tranby was investigated over a student's allegation that he had offered her an A in return for sexual favors. Domenico Grasso, the provost at Delaware, sent an email to the campus in which he said the article in the student newspaper included "errors of fact," but he did not specify them. He said that he couldn't discuss specifics of the case, but that "this matter was handled promptly and appropriately, with sensitivity and clear communication with the student and her advocate, and in accordance with all University policies and the requirements of federal law." Both Grasso's email and a response from the Review may be found here.
In an email to Inside Higher Ed, Tranby said: "Last spring, there was a claim of quid pro quo sexual harassment made against me. I strongly deny any allegations that I asked for sexual favors in exchange for a grade, nor did I threaten the complainant in any way. The university takes all claims very seriously, as they should, and they promptly and appropriately investigated the claim. There were no findings of quid pro quo harassment, I was not disciplined, and I remain on faculty. I was upset by the allegations and ensuing rumors, and chose to take a leave of absence while I sought new employment."
In today's Academic Minute, Jennie Brand, associate professor of sociology at the University of California at Los Angeles, takes a look at the effects of job loss on single mothers. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.
College of DuPage's full-time faculty union has voted "no confidence" in college President Robert L. Breuder, 189 to 53. Glenn Hansen, president of the National Education Association-affiliated union and a DuPage photography instructor, said Breuder has contributed to an atmosphere of "distrust" on campus. He cited a recent controversy in which the president was revealed, via a leaked email, to have planned to ask the state of Illinois for $20 million in pre-appropriated funding for a building that already had been built using college money. Breuder planned to say the money would go toward another new, $50 million teaching and learning center, even though the estimated cost of construction was only $30 million. Breuder said he was being creative about how to obtain once-promised funds, and the college says that if it ever receives that $20 million, it will be used to "scale" the center plan. (Note: This sentence has been updated from an earlier version, to clarify that the college would use the funds for the center.) But critics said the president was being greedy at the expense of taxpayers.
Joseph Moore, college spokesman, in an email attributed faculty tensions to union contract negotiations going back to 2011, and said that the recent vote was limited to full-time faculty only (the college says it has more than four times as many adjuncts as full-time faculty members, 1303 compared to 305, respectively). He continued: "Overall, the campus climate, as measured in 2014 by a nationally normed employee satisfaction survey administered by an outside agency, is excellent, with scores for 'healthy campus climate' now tying our all-time recorded high.”
The Washington State Supreme Court has ruled that a long-time adjunct can pursue her case of age discrimination against Clark College, which passed her over for full-time positions in favor of younger candidates, the Associated Press reported. The court ruled that there was evidence both to back the adjunct's claims and those of the college, and that a jury should hear the case. Lower courts had backed the college and rejected the case.
In today's Academic Minute, Frank Thompson, a professor of fisheries and wildlife sciences at the University of Missouri of Columbia, discusses the declining populations of songbirds. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.
Ten professors were among the 21 people named as the latest class of MacArthur Fellows. The fellowship, from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, provides $625,000 over five years, no strings attached. Many refer to the program as the "genius awards," even if the foundation doesn't.
Biographies of this year's fellows may be found here.
The academic winners:
Danielle Bassett, the Skirkanich Assistant Professor of Innovation at the University of Pennsylvania
Tami Bond, professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Sarah Deer, professor of law at the William Mitchell College of Law
Jennifer L. Eberhardt, associate professor of psychology, at Stanford University
Terrance Hayes, professor of writing at the University of Pittsburgh
Mark Hersam, professor of materials science and engineering at Northwestern University
Jacob Lurie, professor of mathematics at Harvard University
Khaled Mattawa, associate professor of English language and literature at the University of Michigan
Tara Zahra, professor of East European history at the University of Chicago
Yitang Zhang, professor of mathematics and statistics at the University of New Hampshire
When young sociologists would consult with C. Wright Mills, it’s said, he would end his recommendations with what was clearly a personal motto: “Take it big!” It was the concentrated expression of an ethos: Tackle major issues. Ask wide-ranging questions. Use the tools of your profession, but be careful not to let them dig a mental rut you can’t escape.
Jo Guldi and David Armitage give much the same advice to their colleagues, and especially their colleagues-to-be, in The History Manifesto, a new book from Cambridge University Press. (Guldi is an assistant professor of history at Brown University, while Armitage is chair of the history department at Harvard.) Only by “taking it big” can their field regain the power and influence it once had in public life – and lost, somewhere along the line, to economics, with its faith in quantification and the seeming rigor of its concepts.
But issues such as climate change and growing economic inequality must be understood in terms of decades and centuries. The role of economists as counselors to the powerful has certainly been up for question over the past six years. Meanwhile, the world’s financial system continues to be shaped by computerized transactions conducted at speeds only a little slower than the decay of subatomic particles. And so, with their manifesto, the authors raise the call: Now is the time for all good historians to come to the aid of their planet.
But first, the discipline needs some major recalibration. “In 1900,” Guldi and Armitage write, “the average number of years covered [by the subject matter of] doctoral dissertations in history in the United States was about 75 years; by 1975, it was closer to 30.” The span covered in a given study is not the only thing that’s narrowed over the intervening four decades. Dissertations have “concentrated on the local and the specific as an arena in which the historian can exercise her skills of biography, archival reading, and periodization within the petri-dish of a handful of years.”
The problem isn’t with the monographs themselves, which are often virtuoso analyses by scholars exhibiting an almost athletic stamina for archival research. Guldi and Armitage recognize the need for highly focused and exhaustively documented studies in recovering the history of labor, racial and religious minorities, women, immigrants, LGBT people, and so forth.
But after two or three generations, the “ever narrower yet ever deeper” mode has become normative. The authors complain that it "determines how we write our studies, where we look for sources, and which debates we engage. It also determines where we break off the conversation.”
Or, indeed, whether the conversation includes a historical perspective at all. “As students in classrooms were told to narrow and to focus” their research interests, “the professionals who deal with past and future began to restrict not only their sources and their data, but sometimes also their ideas.”
In referring to “professionals who deal with past and future,” the authors do not mean historians themselves -- at least not exclusively -- but rather leaders active at all levels of society. The relevance of historical knowledge to public affairs (and vice versa) once seemed obvious. Guldi and Armitage point to Machiavelli’s commentary on Livy as one example of a political figure practicing history, while Eric Williams, who wrote Capitalism and Slavery for his doctoral dissertation, went on to serve as Trinidad’s first prime minister after it became independent.
Between extreme specialization by historians and politicians whose temporal horizons are defined by the election cycle, things look bad. That understanding the past might have some bearing on actions in the present may not seem all that difficult to grasp. But consider the recent American president who invaded a Middle Eastern country without knowing that its population consisted of two religious groups who, over the past millennium or so, have been less than friendly toward one another. (For some reason, I thought of that a couple of times while reading Guldi and Armitage.) Anyway, it did turn out to be kind of an issue.
A manifesto requires more than complaint. It must also offer a program and, as much as possible, rally some forces for realizing its demands. The cure for short-term thinking in politics that Guldi and Armitage propose is the systematic cultivation of long-term thinking in history.
And to begin with, that means putting the norms of what they call “microhistory” in context – keeping in mind that it is really a fairly recent development within the profession. (Not so many decades ago, a historical study covering no more than a hundred years ran the risk of being dismissed as a bit of a lightweight.) The authors call for a revival of the great Ferdinand Braudel’s commitment to study historical processes “of long, even of very long, duration,” as he said in the late 1950s.
Braudel’s longue-durée was the scale on which developments such as the consolidation of trade routes or the growth of a world religion took place: centuries, or millennia. These phenomena “lasted longer than economic cycles, to be sure,” Guldi and Armitage write, but “were significantly shorter than the imperceptibly shifting shapes of mountains or seas, or the rhythms of nomadism or transhumance.”
Braudel counterposed the longue-durée to “the history of events,” which documented ephemeral matters such as wars, political upheaval, and whatnot. The History Manifesto is not nearly so Olympian as that. The aim is not to obliterate what the authors call “the Short Past” but rather to encourage research that would put “events” in the perspective of rhythms of change extending beyond a single human lifetime.
The tools are available. Guldi and Armiutage’s proposed course seems inspired by Big Data as much as by Braudel. Drawing on pools of scattered information about “weather, trade, agricultural production, food consumption, and other material realities,” historians could create broad but detailed accounts of how the social and environmental conditions change over long periods.
“Layering known patterns of reality upon each other,” the authors say, “produces startling indicators of how the world has changed – for instance the concentration of aerosols identified from the mid-twentieth century in parts of India have proven to have disrupted the pattern of the monsoon…. By placing government data about farms next to data on the weather, history allows us to see the interplay of material change with human experience, and how a changing climate has already been creating different sets of winners and losers over decades.”
Any number of questions come to mind about causality, the adequacy of available documents, and whether one’s methodology identifies patterns or creates them. But that’s always the case, whatever the scale a historian is working on.
The History Manifesto is exactly as tendentious as the title would suggest -- and if the authors find it easier to make their case against “microhistory” by ignoring the work of contemporary “macrohistorians” …. well, that’s the nature of the genre. A few examples off the top of my head: Perry Anderson’s Passages from Antiquity to Feudalism and Lineages of the Absolutist State, Michael Mann’s multivolume study of social power over the past five thousand years, and the essays by Gopal Balakrishnan’s collected in Antagonistics, which grapple with the longue-duré in terms both cosmopolitan and stratospheric. They also shuffle quietly past the work of Oswald Spengler, Arnold Toynbee, and Carroll Quigley – an understandable oversight, given the questions that would come up about where megahistory ends and megalomania takes over.
Moments of discretion aside, The History Manifesto is a feisty and suggestive little book, and it should be interesting to see whether much of the next generation of historians will gather beneath its banner.