Leaders critical of regime in charge of JFK Library

Historians in the News
tags: JFK Library, Thomas Putnam



HNN Editor On September 19, 2015 a group of historians issued a public letter published in the Boston Globe about the turmoil at the Kennedy Library.  They wrote:  "When foundations, however sincere their own intentions, attempt to interfere with or impede the independence, operations, and mission of any presidential library in the National Archives and Records Administration system, these fine institutions and the historical understanding they seek to promote suffers. We worry that this is what is now happening at the Kennedy Library." The letter was signed by Ellen Fitzpatrick and Robert Dallek and co-signed by  Thurston Clarke, David J. Garrow, Diane McWhorter, Philip Muehlenbeck, Timothy Naftali, and David Nasaw.

The director of the John F. Kennedy Library has resigned, the most prominent in a long line of recent departures from the iconic institution, triggering a new round of rancor among longtime library figures.

Thomas J. Putnam, a federal employee who joined the library in 1999 and became its fifth director in 2007, notified colleagues on Tuesday morning that, under his current plan, he would stay on only until Thanksgiving. He called his departure a personal decision.

The library has seen a mass exodus of employees — more than one-third of the staff has left voluntarily or been terminated — over the past year and a half, since Heather Campion became chief executive of the foundation that works in tandem with federal archives officials to run the library. During that time, the library has seen a plunge in morale, according to many people familiar with the library’s workings.

Putnam’s announcement ignited criticism Tuesday from former longtime library executives who previously had refrained from publicly criticizing the new leadership, including a suggestion that Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg bore some responsibility for the turmoil.

Tom McNaught, who preceded Campion as head of the foundation, called Putnam “absolutely the most remarkable leader of any presidential library,” and laid the reasons for his departure squarely at the feet of the foundation’s highest echelons. ...




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