ASEEES Responds to Cohen Controversy

On Friday, the Executive Committee of the Association for Slavic, East European and Eurasian Studies (ASEEES) posted on the Association’s website a “clarification” of its position on the controversial rejection by the Association’s board of a sizeable donation from the KAT Foundation to fund dissertation fellowships and to be named for Professor Stephen Cohen and his late mentor Robert Tucker, which I discussed in a previous post.  The full text of the ASEEES statement is reproduced below.

The statement attributes the initial delay in approving the previously negotiated and signed agreement with the Foundation to “procedural and other concerns raised by members of the Board at that stage, and in particular, the absence of a formal Gift Acceptance Policy . . . ”  This is clearly disingenuous, since by all accounts the “other concerns” were directly related to the nature of Stephen Cohen’s views.  The statement then notes that the offer was withdrawn by the donors in September, which is true, but fails to address the donors’ motivation in doing so.  The statement then adds that the Board’s “attempt to reopen negotiations in November added to the distress of the donors.”  That’s an understatement, since this attempt was simply an offer to accept the donation without acknowledging Professor Cohen’s name in the program’s title, which was the issue to begin with.

It is, however, mildly encouraging that the statement promises that the Association is “working on a constructive way forward.”  But such a way will only be legitimate if it includes a more thorough public accounting by the Association’s leadership of its position and of the votes taken by Board members, who after all should be accountable to those members who elected them, and if it includes a clear apology to Professor Cohen and his wife, Katrina vanden Heuvel.

Here is the full text of the ASEEES “clarification:”

ASEEES Clarification Regarding Cohen-Tucker Fellowship Program Negotiation

Publishing Date:
Friday, January 30, 2015

In the light of recent press coverage and circulations by email, we would like to clarify the position of the Board and Executive Committee with regard to the negotiation between ASEEES and the KAT Charitable Foundation to establish the Stephen F. Cohen-Robert C. Tucker dissertation fellowship program in Russian historical studies. 

The ASEEES governing bodies and the donors set out in good faith to establish a graduate fellowship program that would help to replace the shortfall left by the loss of Title VIII funding in 2013. Negotiations between the Executive Committee and the donors progressed smoothly until August 2014. Unfortunately procedural and other concerns raised by members of the Board at that stage, and in particular, the absence of a formal Gift Acceptance Policy, generated an unavoidable delay in formal consideration of the proposal by the full ASEEES Board until the annual Board meeting in November. We deeply regret the pain and anguish the delay caused Professor Stephen Cohen and Ms. Katrina vanden Heuvel, who decided to withdraw their offer in September. The Board’s attempt to reopen negotiations in November added to the distress of the donors, a development that we also greatly regret.

We are currently working on a constructive way forward. For now, please know that all actions of the ASEEES governing bodies were taken with the interests of ASEEES foremost in mind.

A key aspect of the Association’s priorities has been to advocate for and provide financial support for graduate students. To this end, we have been advocating tirelessly and diligently for re-appropriation of the Title VIII funding. We can report that Congress included support for the Title VIII program in its 2015 budget omnibus bill that was passed, and signed by President Obama, in December.  Also, the Board approved establishment of the ASEEES Dissertation grant program, funded by the ASEEES general endowment. The announcement of the program is forthcoming. In addition, we launched a new mentoring program for graduate students and junior scholars in 2014, as a way to provide professional development support.

We are now busily working on the 2015 annual convention in Philadelphia, with the panel/roundtable deadline just around the corner on February 15.  We look forward to another productive and lively convention.


Members of the Executive Committee

5 thoughts on “ASEEES Responds to Cohen Controversy

  1. Were I a member of this conflicted organization, I would be requesting a copy of the referenced “Gift Acceptance Policy,” including all of its incarnations as a so-called policy and the date(s) of its/their formal adoption by the organization.

    I would also ask what governance mechanisms exist within the organization for a review of such a policy statement should it be flawed in either its conception or application — as one can not help but assume that this is a new “ad hoc” policy instrument.

  2. I am curious to know what exactly Stephen Cohen has written that ASEEES finds so objectionable. Somebody at the board meeting must have said, “We can’t be associated with Dr. Cohen because…”

    • If you are curious his “thought” (and speech) leadership is all over the web – not that difficult to locate for someone who is genuinely “curious”

  3. Pingback: ASEEES Offers Second, More Detailed Response to Cohen Controversy | The Academe Blog

  4. Pingback: RUSSIA & UKRAINE: JRL 2015-#24 table of contents with links :: Tuesday 10 February 2015 | Johnson's Russia List

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