Leon Fink: How History Departments HireRoundup: Talking About History
I recently received a request from the chair of the Harvard University department of history for help in a search to fill a tenured position in a designated subfield (I'm being intentionally vague here) of U.S. history. Neither an invitation to apply myself nor a request for other nominations, the letter rather asked me to evaluate a list of seven scholars, and add others if desired, "both in absolute terms and relative to one another." Less than two years previously, as part of the promotion-and-tenure process within our department at Chicago, I had similarly been asked to rank a particular candidate in relation to an enumerated list of academic peers. Complying with the request on that occasion, I had nevertheless expressed serious reservations about the process.
My complaint in that instance having obviously fallen on deaf ears, I have chosen this time to air my protest more publicly. My hope is that it might trigger discussion both inside and outside Harvard -- and other institutions that duplicate its procedures -- about the norms of the peer-review process.
My objections are threefold. First, it is too much work. Taken up responsibly -- i.e., doing more than funneling back residual impressions of scholarship recently encountered or, worse, boosting colleagues you know over those you do not -- the task requires an exhaustive, comparative review of a rich trove of recent work. It is one thing to vet the credentials of a particular candidate, but quite another to do it fairly for a field of seven....
Second, Harvard's preoccupation with outsider rankings of candidates bespeaks a persistent (if unspoken) quest for a dubious "best and brightest" academic pedigree....
Finally, I object to the imperial conceit that we all have a stake in whom Harvard hires. My own department recently conducted a search to fill a position in the field of early American history. If I had written Harvard's doyens of the field with a request for a comparative evaluation of our semifinal list, could I have expected a substantive response? Somehow, I doubt it....
comments powered by Disqus
- Rubio Surges Into Second In New Hampshire
- Branstad Says Cruz Ran ‘Unethical’ Campaign
- Christie Highlights Santorum’s Endorsement of Rubio
- Portman Comes Out Against Trade Deal
- Megyn Kelly Gets a Book Deal
- A Big List of the Bad Things Clinton Has Done
- An Unambiguous Sign Sanders Won Last Night’s Debate
- Still Friends at the End
- Quote of the Day
- Trump Still Leads as Clinton Slips
- Clinton Can’t Shake Image as Wall Street’s Friend
- Maddow Doesn’t See Sanders Winning
- Why Does the Media Still Shield Chelsea Clinton?
- Bush Jokes His Mother May Have Abused Him
- Rubio Closes the Gap in New Hampshire
- Newly released interactive map shows images of destroyed monuments of Mosul
- How the Rise of the Post Office Explains American Innovation
- These Americans are reliving history and don’t mind repeating it
- Britain largest home is saved for the nation
- Shelter and the slums: capturing bleak Britain 50 years ago
- WSJ features an article by a conservative calling for the abolition of Black History Month
- Mary Beard, herself a bestselling author, wonders why more women historians aren't
- Princeton U. historian Imani Perry claims mistreatment in parking ticket arrest
- Retired historian George Dennison remains on the payroll at the U. of Montana while faculty are cut
- The Atlantic profiles exciting ways to teach history