A Response to Peter Wood

By Allan Lichtman, Distinguished Professor of History, American University

In his response to my critique of the National Association of Scholars report, RECASTING HISTORY: ARE RACE, CLASS, AND GENDER DOMINATING AMERICAN HISTORY?, at the recent conference of the AAUP, NAS President Peter Wood harps on a remark that comprised well under 1 percent of my commentary, ignoring the other 99 percent plus. I noted that the NAS has published on its website positions on controversial political issues like climate change, gay marriage, sexual harassment codes and affirmative action that conform to the priorities of such conservative funders of the group, such as the Olin, Bradley, Coors, Smith Richardson and Scaife Foundations.

These were not gratuitous comments but were made in passing (there is no mention of these political positions in my written text) as a response to the claim that NAS is a politically neutral, purely scholarly group. Peter Wood stated that the NAS has also published articles taking liberal positions on these issues, but could point to no examples.

Obviously my comment struck a deep nerve with Peter Wood, because he uses it as a pretext for a vastly overblown tirade against the AAUP, even though I in no way represent that organization. I suppose he believes it illegitimate for the AAUP to even include on its program a scholar who might expose the ideological leaning of his group. For an examination of the role that the NAS plays in the American conservative movement, see my book, White Protestant Nation: The Rise of the American Conservative Movement, p. 419.

Wood’s response passes over all the substantive analyses that I presented, including the following:

1. The NAS reviewers of textbooks and faculty interests lacked qualifications in history and had prior track records of attacking the use of race, class, and gender in history books.

2. These reviewers had badly misclassified works identified which supposedly emphasized race, class, and gender.

3. The report presumes that attention to race, class, and gender, “crowds out” traditional concerns of fields like my own political history, when in fact such consideration greatly deepens and enriches analyses of historical topics.

4. The report’s own findings, even if taken at face value fail to demonstrate “an inordinate” emphasis on race, class and gender. In fact, traditional topics are much more prevalent than an emphasis on these matters both in textbook assignments and faculty interests. Courses with only a small emphasis on race class and gender are counted as having an overemphasis on these topics.

5. If adopted, the report’s recommendations would terribly damage both academic freedom and scholarly excellence. Some of the more threatening recommendations are the following.

Recommendation 3 says, “Hiring committees should also consider the makeup of the research interests in the department, and if race, class, and gender have become too dominant as research themes, they should decline to hire new faculty members whose research focuses on race, class, and gender.” This would subvert hiring based on the merits of applicants.

Recommendation 5 calls upon members of history departments “to collaborate to develop lists of historical documents and works of scholarship that the department expects all students at a given course level to study.” This recommendation would undermine the academic freedom of all faculty members who dissented from the prescribed list.

Recommendation 2 calls upon deans, provosts, and trustees who are not necessarily qualified in the discipline of history significantly intervene in decisions about hiring, promotion, scholarship, and teaching would gravely damage academic excellence and academic freedom. The recommendation does not even state that historians should conduct such reviews.

Recommendation 8 calls for political intervention into university scholarship and teaching. Politicians have their own goals and agenda that have nothing whatsoever to do with academic excellence and are detrimental to academic freedom.

The full text of my written commentary is posted on Academe Blog.

2 thoughts on “A Response to Peter Wood

  1. Pingback: “Race, Class and Gender” | Academe Blog

  2. Pingback: What Has Happened to the AAUP? | Academe Blog

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