Glenn W. Lafantasie: Oldest Living TA Turns Professor

Historians in the News

It was only a year ago that I told my story in these pages, describing how I had returned to graduate school at age 55 to finish my Ph.D. in history and how, as a result, I had earned the sobriquet from my students at Brown University as the Oldest Living TA.

After spending 30 years as a public historian for various historical agencies and ultimately for the U.S. Department of State, I decided to go back to Brown to finish what I had started so long ago. But when my essay was published last year, I was having trouble finding a teaching job. I had gone on a few interviews, but after applying for positions at more than 50 departments, I had received no word at all from most of them.

Disappointed and depressed, I wondered if age discrimination might be a factor. But I had no real evidence of that. I was just thinking out loud -- in this case, in print. In my column, I cited a 1996 study from the American Historical Association that found age discrimination all too rife in history-department searches.

My essay seemed to hit a nerve. I heard from many other older graduate students and Ph.D.'s, most of them in the humanities, who thanked me for my comments and revealed that they were in the same boat, unable to find work in academe.

But then I started to feel a little guilty. For no sooner had my essay appeared in The Chronicle than I received a job offer. It was for a temporary post at the University of Maine at Farmington. Several people at the university -- including the president, the provost, and the head of the search committee looking to fill a one-year appointment in history there -- saw my essay at precisely the same time that I applied for the position.

The president, Theodora Kalikow, later told me that she had thought after reading my column, "He's the kind of person we should get up here." She was amazed when the search committee selected me to fill the temporary position, and I must confess that she welcomed me with an enthusiasm that made it seem as if we were old friends....

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