Two additional documents are now available for those who have been following the controversy sparked by the refusal of the board of the Association for Slavic, East European and Eurasian Studies (ASEEES) to accept funding for a dissertation fellowship program from eminent scholar Stephen F. Cohen and his wife, Katrina vanden Heuvel, because the program would bear Professor Cohen’s name. I have previously posted my own views of this controversy here and here and last week posted a February 5 letter drafted by Professor David Ransel, now signed by 137 scholars in the field, which calls on the Association’s Board to reverse its previous decision and accept the Cohen-vanden Heuvel donation. The ASEEES Board’s own response to the controversy may be accessed here. Those seeking to fully understand the background of this dispute, however, will also benefit from access to two additional documents, not previously available online. The first is an initial letter of protest drafted by Professor Ransel, signed by a broad group of scholars in the field, and sent on January 26. Here is the text of that letter (minus the list of additional signatories, all of whom also signed the February 5 letter):
January 26, 2015
Catriona Kelly, President ASEEES
Padraic Kenney, Vice President ASEEES
Stephen Hanson, Immediate Past President ASEEES
Dear Catriona, Padraic, and Steve,
I was dismayed to learn about the decision of ASEEES leaders to cause difficulties for implementation of the Stephen F. Cohen-Robert C. Tucker Dissertation Fellowships because of objections that it honored Stephen Cohen. What possible justification could there be for rejecting a generous offer of fellowship support given in the name of a leading political scientist and historian in our field and his longtime mentor and friend? I understand that the dissertation fellowships would go a long way toward replacing the lost Title VIII funding for graduate-student research and, furthermore, that the initial substantial contribution could lead to a continuing provision of an equal size and possibly a permanent endowment.
If, as I have heard, the failure to implement the fellowship under Steve Cohen’s name is motivated by disagreement with his current views on the crisis in Ukraine, all the worse. Steve has made important scholarly contributions to our field over several decades, he has defended Soviet dissidents, encouraged and advised Mikhail Gorbachev on his world-altering reforms, and offered thoughtful commentaries on post-Soviet developments, based on his deep knowledge of Russia. If the ASEEES now wishes to revoke its previous acceptance of the generous offer of the KAT Foundation fellowships honoring Steve and his mentor Bob Tucker because of disagreements with Steve’s current views, this reeks of a censuring of public discourse and should be regarded by all decent people as a profound embarrassment to our association.
Such a decision would also be a departure from our longtime practices. I well know from having served for many years as Slavic Review editor, member of the Board of Directors, Finance Committee, and President of the ASEEES that we maintain a very big tent. Many of our members express and publish views that others consider deeply flawed, but we do not deny them our respect and the opportunity to participate in the activities of the association or to name prizes. We argue our different points of view in our publications and at our annual convention and regional conferences.
I hope that you will protect this tradition of practice and will do what you can move the association away from an effort to chill critical discourse. You could begin by implementing the Cohen-Tucker Dissertation Fellowship program as it was originally established, by apologizing to Steve and to his wife Katrina vanden Heuvel, and by thanking them both for funding the Cohen-Tucker Dissertation Prize and now the proposed, and sorely needed, fellowships.
David L. Ransel
The Robert F. Byrnes Professor Emeritus
Earlier, on January 13, Professor Cohen himself sent a lengthy letter to the ASEEES leadership explaining his position and his concerns. While the letter has circulated among scholars in the field, and was cited by me in my original post on the issue, Professor Cohen has now granted permission for the ASEEES to post its text for public access on the Association’s website here. Their willingness to do so is, in my opinion, a positive sign. Because this letter is now public, it makes sense also to include it on this blog. Here is its full text as posted to the ASEEES site (with some minor stylistic corrections from the original):
TO: The ASEEES President, Executive Committee, Board of Directors and All Interested Members of the Association
FROM: Stephen F. Cohen, Professor Emeritus of Politics, Princeton University;Professor Emeritus of Russian Studies & History, New York University
RE: The Rejected Stephen F. Cohen-Robert C. Tucker Dissertation Fellowship Program
DATE: January 13, 2015
In its recent dealings with me and my wife, Katrina vanden Heuvel (KvH), the ASEEES –specifically its Board of Directors — has made a political decision that creates serious doubts about the organization’s commitment to First Amendment rights and academic freedom. Having been drawn into this affair unknowingly and unwillingly, KvH and I hereby, for the second time, withdraw from it.
To summarize what has happened: On August 11, 2014, after nearly two years of general discussions and specific negotiations with ASEEES Executive Director Lynda Park, KvH signed a contract committing the KAT Charitable Foundation to fund, under ASEEES auspices, six $22,000 doctoral research fellowships a year, in Russian historical studies, for at least three years, beginning in academic year 2014-2015. The project was to be called “The Stephen F. Cohen-Robert C. Tucker Dissertation Fellowship Program.” The funds were committed without any political conditions or intent. They were given with the sole purpose of replacing, at least to some significant extent, fellowships lost due to the cancellation of Title VIII funding for the essential dissertation research year in Russian archives — that is, to support young American PhD candidates who must be our next generation of scholars and professors.
For the first three years alone, the funds were substantial — $413,000, which included smaller amounts for ASEEES overhead expenses and honoraria for members of the Selection Panel. KvH and I hoped this would be only the beginning. As the contract stated, “The KAT Foundation may choose to increase the number of fellowships if the quantity and quality of the applications merit an increase. Based on the performance of the first three years, the KAT Foundation may consider extending or endowing the program.” That is, if all went well academically, the KAT Foundation was considering an investment of millions of needed dollars in the future of Russian historical studies at American universities.
But at the last moment, things suddenly did not go well. Soon after the ASEEES executive office in Pittsburgh received KvH’s signed copy of the contract, we were informed that some individuals on the 24-member ASEEES Board of Directors strongly objected to having my name on the fellowships. Their objections, we were told informally, had to do with my public criticism of U.S. policy regarding the American-Russian confrontation over Ukraine in 2014. We were then told by ASEEES President Stephen Hanson, through Ms. Park, that the decision was being deferred until the annual Board of Directors meeting in San Antonio, on November 20, 2014. On December 4, belatedly it seemed to us, we were informed by President Hanson that the Board had voted to accept the KAT Foundation’s funding as specified in the contract, but only on the condition that my name not appear on the fellowships.
By now, the ASEEES executive office has received KvH’s email explaining why the Kat Foundation has — also for the second time — withdrawn its proposal to fund the fellowships. Below, I will explain, in my own way, why I agree with that decision.
First, however, I must emphasize, on behalf of KvH and myself, that Lynda Park was in no way responsible for this lamentable outcome. As the ASEEES Executive Director who discussed and negotiated the fellowship proposal with us, Ms. Park’s role throughout was entirely supportive, honorable and professional. We do not have a close personal or social relationship with Ms. Park, but during our many discussions with her we came to admire her commitment to the scholarly mission of the ASEEES and her extraordinary professionalism. When our interest faltered, she revived it. When the sums we initially proposed were insufficient, she persuaded us to increase them by preparing detailed spreadsheets showing what the loss of Title VIII had cost the field and what was needed to sustain it. When formulations were required to resolve concerns on both sides — none them political or involving the naming of the fellowships — she provided them. And when the time came to choose an inaugural Selection Panel, Ms. Park persuaded three exceptionally distinguished scholars to serve as members. By August 2014, I think, they were already beginning to carry out their obligations. KvH and I remain grateful to those senior (and very busy) senior scholars as well. (It is my understanding that the members of the Selection Panel sent their own letter to the ASEEES executive office protesting what had happened and asking for an explanation.)
Understandably, in early August, we and Ms. Park were celebrating what we considered to be our jointly achieved, and vital, contribution to Russian historical studies in the United States. Our discussion had turned to how and when the nation-wide application process should be announced, making it known to all eligible candidates. Assured all along the way that the ASEEES President and Executive Committee “unanimously supported” the program and the contract signed by KvH — a contract drawn up by those executive officials — and were “deeply grateful” to us, we had no inkling that intolerant political factors were about to (re-) enter the field of American Russian Studies — and at the highest level.
What follows is my own understanding of the history of this disgraceful affair. My account is based on correspondence I exchanged with the ASEEES executive office, emails I received from other people in the field, as well as several oral reports. (None of my correspondence with the ASEEES or the contract KvH signed were intended to be confidential. Anyone with a legitimate interest in this matter may therefore have access to them. I have copies, as does the ASEEES executive office in Pittsburgh.)
Here, then, is the fuller history of the rejected Stephen F. Cohen-Robert C. Tucker Dissertation Fellowship Program as I know it, along with my reactions to and interpretations of certain developments. My account is organized around the chapters in which the affair unfolded.
I. I am not sure exactly when KvH and I began discussing the fellowships with Ms. Park, only that in an email dated August 2, 2012, she wrote to us: “Due to the federal and state budget cuts, our field … is under duress … If you have any thoughts on these issues, I would love to have a longer conversation with you …”
— It was not surprising that Ms. Park might turn to us. For several years, the Kat Foundation had been funding, under ASEEES auspices, the annual Robert C. Tucker-Stephen F. Cohen Dissertation Award. And it was generally known that in recent years the Kat Foundation had funded Tucker-Cohen undergraduate and MA degree fellowships in Russian studies at three universities where I had been a student or a professor — Indiana University, Princeton University and New York University (where the fellowship bears only my name).
— By 2013, we were in more regular touch with Ms. Park about the possibility of PhD dissertation research fellowships. Our discussions included, as I recall, a meeting of the three of us at the national ASEEES convention. KvH and I were somewhat laggardly in responding, partly because we were distracted by other matters and partly because KvH had to explore the foundation’s capacity to commit to such large sums, perhaps over many years, and possibly endow them. By 2014, however, KvH and I were committed to the project, mainly because we now understood the dire financial threat to the future of Russian historical studies in the United States, though the extent of our commitment was still somewhat uncertain. Almost all of that uncertainty ended when Ms. Park visited us at our New York apartment on February 4, 2014, when we sketched out a tentative agreement. The remaining details, and the increase in the funds involved, were sorted out in subsequent correspondence with Ms. Park, culminating in the contract KvH signed on August 11, 2014.
II. Shortly thereafter, we were informed that “one or two,” or “a few,” individuals on the 24-member ASEEES Board of Directors were so offended by my public commentary on the Ukrainian crisis that they threatened to resign if the ASEEES established fellowships bearing my name.
— Our reaction (mine and KvH’s) was disappointment, anger and disgust that censorious politics had been inserted in a purely academic, scholarly and vital matter. Through Ms. Park, I urged President Hanson to immediately inform all Board members of the issue and poll them by email. If a substantial majority opposed my name being on the fellowships, we would reconsider our proposal. If not, the application process would be announced and the Selection Panel could resume its work, awarding fellowships for 2015-2016, as planned. We were informed this was not possible, that for “procedural” reasons the matter had to be decided at the Board meeting in November, though we were given no comparable precedent for this requirement.
III. On September 8, after considerable thought, I emailed a three-page letter, addressed to Ms. Park but directed to the ASEEES President, Executive Committee and Board, withdrawing our offer to fund the fellowships. The reasons I gave — shared by KvH — are spelled out below, so I will only itemize them here.
— I protested the intolerant politics involved. I questioned why my forty years of scholarship and other contributions to the field were not sufficient for having my name on the fellowships, along with that of the late, and more eminent, Robert C. Tucker. I objected to having my public commentary, my role as a citizen, in effect tried and judged at a Board meeting. I warned that waiting three months would only intensify the issue. And I added that I did not want the prolonged personal stress and distraction. With KvH’s approval, I added, however, these words: “If sometime in the future, the ASEEES, including its Board, decides to ask us to reconsider funding such fellowships, we will consider the request, but without any sense of prior commitment.
IV. At this point, I feel the need to digress, not to defend my public commentary on the Ukrainian crisis but to put it in some context. My sustained public comments began in February 2014, primarily, though not only, in The Nation magazine and on its website and on CNN television, mainly on Fareed Zakaria’s Sunday morning program and on several primetime evening broadcasts. No one familiar with my previous publications could have been surprised by the positions I took. Since the 1990s, I had been warning that U.S. policy toward post-Soviet Russia, beginning with the Clinton administration, was leading to something akin to a new cold war. (Most of those writings were reprinted in my book Failed Crusade, published by WW Norton in 2000 and 2001.) I continued my critical analysis of U.S. policy in the 2000s, summing it up in scholarly fashion, with ample endnotes, in my book Soviet Fates and Lost Alternatives: From Stalinism to the New Cold War, in chapters 6-7 and in the epilogue to the paperback edition (Columbia University Press, 2009 and 2011). Both books were controversial, dissenting from established opinion, but received generally favorable reviews. The reviewer for Current History wrote of Soviet Fates, for example: “[George] Kennan’s understanding of the Russian state … has proved to have enormous currency over time. Cohen’s views should be given similar credence.”
— Nor was this the first time I had played a public role in controversies over (then Soviet) Russia. In the 1970s and 1980s, I was a prominent proponent — in print, on television and on radio — of detente. I expressed my views candidly, for example, on national television during my nearly 20 years as a consultant to CBS News, and prior to that on NBC; in my monthly syndicated column in The Nation (collected in my book Sovieticus: American Perceptions and Soviet Realities, published by WW Norton in 1985 and 1986); and in op-ed articles in The New York Times and The Washington Post. Political passions ran high during those cold war years, and I was often criticized, but never in ways that anathematized me. Thus, in the late l980s, President George H.W. Bush invited me several times to advise him as to how the U.S. should respond to Mikhail Gorbachev’s policies. On one occasion, this even took the form of a debate with Harvard Professor Richard Pipes, at Camp David, attended by the president and his foreign policy-national security team. That is, nothing I said or wrote during the preceding cold war adversely affected my reputation or role as a scholar in the field of Russian historical and political studies.
— I have not changed, but the times certainly have. Too many reactions to my commentaries on the Ukrainian crisis have been extremely uncivil. From the beginning, I have been repeatedly assailed, in leading publications and on the internet, as Putin’s No. 1 American “apologist,” “useful idiot,” “dupe,” “best friend” and “toady.” Most of this defamation has been produced by self-described “journalists” and “pundits” without any known credentials to comment with authority on Russia or U.S.-Russian relations. (So far as I know, only one colleague in our academic field was among them.) I was not the only target of these slurs. Some were directed even at President Reagan’s ambassador to the Soviet Union, Jack Matlock; an eminent professor of international relations, John Mersheimer of the University of Chicago; and Henry Kissinger. But I was, and I remain, the primary target of such attacks. (I should add that several senior colleagues in our field have come to my defense, as did, for example, Columbia University Professor Emeritus Robert Legvold in a letter to the Boston Globe, July 31, 2014.)
— Considering the volume and wide circulation of these ad hominem attacks on me, I am guessing that many members of the ASEEES Board were not familiar with my actual writings and broadcasts, only with those slurs. (If so, hardly a scholarly way of acquiring knowledge and making judgments.) Again, I feel no need to defend myself, only to summarize my general approach and themes. Recalling the American adage “There are two sides to every story” (see, eg, The Nation, April 2 and Sept. 15, 2014) and President Reagan’s “It takes two to tango,” and given the near-total absence of Russia’s side of the story in our mass media, I sought to provide it in my commentaries. That is, I wanted to apply my historical knowledge and analysis of U.S.-Russian relations since the 1990s to the current crisis. Indeed, I felt obliged to do so because I believed, and still believe, that U.S. policy toward Russia, and Washington’s role in the Ukrainian crisis, are fundamentally damaging vital American national security interests, perhaps irrevocably. More generally, I warned (in The Nation, April 29, 2014 and elsewhere): “This Cold War — its epicenter on Russia’s borders; undertaken amid inflammatory American, Russian and Ukrainian media misinformation; and unfolding without the stabilizing practices that prevented disasters during the preceding Cold War — may be even more perilous. It will almost certainly result in a new nuclear arms race … and possibly an actual war with Russia triggered by Ukraine’s looming civil war.” This ,alas, is proving to have been a reasoned analysis.
— That is why I insisted, in my only printed reply to my “critics,” that I was the “true patriot of US national security.” (See “Patriotic Heresy vs The New Cold War,” The Nation, September 15, 2014.) Moreover, when I appeared alone as a guest on television or radio, I tried to take a “balanced” approach. First I summarized the orthodox political-media view of the crisis, then I presented my own. On the other hand, when I appeared along with formidable opponents — among them, Michael McFaul, Angela Stent, Andrew Weiss, Gen. Wesley Clark, Chrystia Freeland, Anne Applebaum — I felt no need to state the established orthodoxy; my opponents amply represented it. Everyone who appears frequently on television or radio sometimes regrets something he or she said or did not say, usually due to the pressure of time or interrupted discourse. Looking back, however, I cannot think of anything significant I regret having said or written — or anything significant that has not since been borne out by events. (Most of my 2014 writings and a number of my broadcasts, including my weekly one-hour appearances on ABC national radio’s John Batchelor Show, can be found at TheNation.com.)
V. It was in this context that the ASEEES Board met, on November 20, 2014, to decide the fate of the Stephen F. Cohen-Robert C. Tucker Fellowships. As is clear from my letter of September 8, I did not request or consent to this passing of judgment on my public role by the Board. (Nor, however, did I try to prevent it, because a few senior colleagues whom I consulted, not Board members but longtime personal friends, and representatives of the ASEEES executive offices seemed to believe the Board would approve our proposal, including my name on the fellowships, for the sake of the field.)
— I still do not know exactly, or even generally, what was said at the November 20 meeting, though I have asked repeatedly. At one point, I requested a redacted transcript of the minutes, but was told that the discussion pertaining to me was held in confidence , so “no minutes were taken during that time.” Therefore, I do not know what was said about me, against or in my favor. Being unfamiliar with most of the twenty four Board members or their scholarly work, nor do I know how many are historians; how many, if any, brought personal biases to bear on the decision; whether or not KvH’s own role — as my coauthor of several editorials, weekly web columnist for The Washington Post, frequent television commentator and as editor and publisher of The Nation for twenty years — played any part in the deliberations. Having not been invited to attend the meeting, I do not know, that is, whether I was judged by my peers or with any semblance of, so to speak, due process. Or whether what took place behind closed doors was more akin to a high-security tribunal.
— What I do know is based largely on “summary descriptions” of the proceedings that President Hanson felt free to convey to me in subsequent emails. According to him and Ms.Park, the Board meeting featured “at times heated discussion,” during which “some expressed concerns that the announcement of this fellowship program in the current tense political climate could potentially lead to serious splits within the association.” In the end, “a very strong majority” of the Board voted for “a compromise,” as someone else characterized it: To ask the Kat Foundation to provide the previously committed funds but while deleting my name from the fellowships. When I pressed Hanson to confirm that my name was the sole obstacle, he replied, on December 17, that “any” other “naming options” — I had raised a few hypothetically in pursuit of full clarity — would “present absolutely no problem for ASEEES.” In short, the ASEEES Board made a political decision based on my perceived political opinions, which it did not like.
— A word about Stephen Hanson, who apparently found himself in an unwanted and unenviable position. Considering his own stand, or as it was conveyed to me both by him and Ms. Park, I have the impression that he played an honorable role, as he saw it. On December 15, he assured me: “I have tried as earnestly and steadfastly as possible all year long to support the acceptance by the ASEEES of your very generous offer to provide support … for graduate students in Russian historical studies. My position on this subject has never wavered … The Executive Committee was also unanimously in favor.” I am not sure whether or not Hanson’s “support” included keeping my name of the fellowships, but I have no reason to fault his always courteous, sometimes rueful dealings with me. (Certainly, he honored the confidential nature of the Board discussion, divulging very little to me.) Had I been in his leadership position, I might have acted differently at critical moments, but I do not know the constraints or pressure on him.
VI. The final, and for me most anguished, chapter involved my own decision in reaction to the Board’s decision. Having been with KvH for more than thirty years, I doubted that I could have persuaded the Kat Foundation to fund the fellowships in light of what had happened. A Russian-speaker who has lived long periods with me in Russia, many years deeply involved with women’s rights there, an editor with extensive publishing relations with American academics, including Russianists, KvH understood the critical need for those fellowships in historical studies. But she also wanted to honor me and Robert C. Tucker, as she had been doing for several years — me, for obvious reasons; the late Bob Tucker because he had been for much of my adult life my essential mentor, Princeton colleague and very dear friend, as well as my best man when KvH and I married. KvH felt that the Board had dishonored me, and I am not sure I could have persuaded her otherwise. In addition, KvH is a highly principled person. Early in her education she studied and wrote about the McCarthy era, coming to know some of its victims. And for twenty years, she has been editor and publisher of The Nation, an unusually venerable American weekly publication. During most of its 150 years — an anniversary it marks in 2015 — the magazine, founded by abolitionists, has been in the forefront of the struggle to expand American democracy, very often focusing on First Amendent rights, threats to free inquiry, including academic freedom. In the proceedings in San Antonio, on November 20, 2014, KvH detected a toxic odor from America’s past, something censorious. Even had she been willing, I would have been reluctant, to say the least, to urge her to act against her own personal and professional principles.
— Ultimately, though, I did have to come to my own decision. My initial reaction to the Board’s action — taken, as it turned out, not by “a few” but by “a very strong majority” — was to feel personally insulted as a scholar who had worked in the field as a university professor for more than forty years. During those years, my large Princeton and NYU undergraduate courses enrolled perhaps a total of 15,000 students. At Princeton, I supervised or co-supervised dozens of successful PhD candidates, many themselves now university professors, along with MA students. Of my ten authored and edited books, at least three have had some scholarly impact on the field: Bukharin and the Bolshevik Revolution: A Political Biography (Knopf, 1973 and Oxford University Press, 1980); Rethinking the Soviet Experience: Politics and History Since 1917 (Oxford University Press, 1985); and Soviet Fates and Lost Alternatives (Columbia University Press, 2009, expanded edition, 2011). Along the way, I performed other traditional services in the field, participating on panels at annual conventions; serving on editorial boards of scholarly journals; sitting on the IREX selection committee; helping to choose worthy graduate students and colleagues for other fellowships, most recently as a longtime reader for the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation; etc. Until now, so far as I know, none of these activities, performed even as I played my public role in the media, aroused any overt political discrimination against me or stigmatized me in high-level academic circles. For the ASEEES Board, however, it seems clear that my decades of scholarship and other contributions to the field do not offset its dislike for my public commentary on the Ukrainian crisis. The Board thereby demeaned, or held in low regard, my scholarly career.
— The Board’s refusal to link my name to funding for the field raised another question in my mind, which I shared with the executive office on at least two occasions. Since the 1990s, considerable sums of Russian (state-created) oligarchic money has come into the American field of Russian studies, to institutions and individuals. Indeed, the ASEEES’s own publication, NewsNet, regularly publishes advertisements for Alpha Bank Fellowships — that bank being a constituent part of the system some scholars now term “Putin’s Kleptocracy,” ads for which the ASEEES presumably receives a fee. (Advertisements, moreover, that hold out the prospect of jobs for American students in “prominent organizations” in that Russian system.) Why, I asked, was such funding acceptable, but not funds linked to my name, someone who has never taken any Russian funding at all? This, I thought, given what I know about purportedly “independent” institutions in that state oligarchic system, including universities, was especially insulting.
— But was this reason enough to withdraw our financial proposal? I had to ask myself, should I permit this institutional insult outweigh the needs of dozens, eventually scores, of young PhD candidates? Might the loss of these fellowships stunt their careers or burden their lives with considerable debt, impairing the next generation of American historians? Will important dissertation research they may be doing get done or be diminished by a lack of funding needed to spend time in Russian archives? An agonizing decision, but not one of my making — one imposed on me by the ASEEES Board.
— Faced with such important decisions, people are often influenced by their own life experiences. A few of mine seemed relevant. Growing up in a small segregated Southern town, I saw through a boy’s eyes how otherwise decent white folks tolerated, even abetted, injustices against our black citizens, some of it violent, even only by remaining silent. Early in my academic career, I heard first-hand accounts by older professors who had been traumatized by McCarthyism. Later, as a young professor, I observed the chilling effects that still lingered in academic life, occasionally affecting hiring and tenure decisions and the choice of research topics. Still later, living among Soviet-era dissidents in Moscow — my contribution to their struggle is little known but was enough to cost both me and KvH entry visas until 1985 –I witnessed how punitive decisions taken behind closed doors so adversely affected my dissident friends and their families. And I learned how respected academics remained silent or even voted as required. In this regard, a prominent dissident, a generation older than me, once said to me, reflecting not only on the Soviet Union: “There are three kinds of people. People who are good in good times, but bad in bad times. People who are bad in all times. And people who are good in all times.” For me, it has been important to try to be among the latter, though sometimes I have failed.
— The more I thought about the Board’s decision, the more I concluded it was not ultimately about me, or me alone, but about larger, ramifying issues. I concluded that the Board had acted badly in descending bad times — “the current tense political climate” to which Hanson referred — in a way detrimental not only to our field but to the democratic and scholarly values we profess. I decided that I cannot be complicit in that bad behavior, submit to it, regardless of the costs.
— The Board’s decision is not neo-McCarthyism, but it does express — not having been present I do not know whether explicitly or implicitly — political intolerance, a disregard for First Amendment rights and academic freedom, a preference for political orthodoxy (or political correctness) and a recommendation on behalf of (at least) self-censorship. In so doing, the Board betrays the ASEEES “Mission Statement,” which declares itself to be “a non-political” organization “dedicated to the advancement of knowledge,” to “promoting intellectual vitality” and to “mentoring” young scholars. But none of those pursuits are possible, in any academic or intellectual realm, without the kind of fearless freedom of inquiry and speech that leads to vital intellectual/scholarly disagreements, which often have, not only in Russian studies but perhaps especially so, political overtones. And if the ASEEES so disapproves of my pursuits in these regards, what kind of “mentoring” does it have in mind — what message is it sending to younger scholars?
— In this connection, the Board’s “concern” about “serious splits within the association,” presumably political or ideological ones, is deeply alarming. As I replied to ASEEES executives on December 10, 2014, “I did not realize that the ASEEES was based on an assumption of political consensus or conformity among its members. I always assumed, partly because it has usually been the case in the past, that those of us who study Russia, and who speak out in times of U.S.-Russian crises, would express different, even conflicting, opinions. And who best to do this, who has more of an obligation to do so, than those of us who have spent years acquiring some knowledge of Russia …?” I added, somewhat rhetorically, “Or did the departed Soviet political system bequeath its fetish for ‘monolithic unity’ to the ASEEES?” I asked for an explanation of the Board’s concern about “serious splits,” but I did not receive one.
— To repeat, the Board acted badly in today’s unfolding bad times. The Ukrainian crisis and new cold war with Russia have revived deplorable, un-American practices from our nation’s not-so-distant past, including toxic, chilling discourse in purportedly reputable publications and circles. That is why the Board’s decision is not ultimately about me. In recent months, I have heard about other chilling episodes in our profession. Here, for example, is what a senior colleague wrote to me about a young woman scholar scheduled to appear on a scholarly panel he chaired: “One paper presenter dropped out at the last minute — for fear that her too-sympathetic-to-Russia position would endanger her career. I tried to encourage her not to, that in me she had sympathetic chair. But she could not be persuaded, was really, really concerned — even frightened.” Still more, this young woman had been “frightened” by what happened to her friend, who as a result of publishing similarly dissenting opinions “has been threatened by email, phone …” The young scholar wrote to the chair, “I have a family and I don’t want to cause troubles to anyone because of my opinions.” Are these the young scholars the ASEEES proposes to mentor? Lest anyone think this toxicity is merely a local exception, or attached to only a few of us, consider the letter published in The Washington Post, on December 11, 2014, from a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, who assailed Zbigniew Brzezinski and Henry Kissinger — yes, those esteemed veteran statesmen — for “advocating that the West appease Russia,” The word “appeasement,” also deployed by the former ambassador, is, of course, intended to be disqualifying, chilling, censorious.
— These episodes, and others, are, I fear, adumbrations of neo-McCarthyism by whatever name. The proper role of the ASEEES should be to resist them, to buffer our field from their possible consequences. Instead, it has abetted them.
To this long letter, I must add two postscripts:
— I see no difference between my name on the existing ASEEES Tucker-Cohen Dissertation Award and my name on the proposed PhD fellowships. I have asked repeatedly for an explanation, but here too received none. Unless we are given a cogent explanation very soon, KvH and I will instruct the ASEEES to remove my name entirely from the Dissertation Award and its description. The KAT Foundation will nonetheless continue to fund the annual award in order to continue honoring Bob Tucker, for the reasons given above. (Indeed, the ASEEES Board, considering its decision in San Antonio, may welcome this outcome.)
— Also for reasons spelled out above, I am increasingly disinclined to leave the Board’s decision and its possible political ramifications behind closed doors. My repeated query as to whether this entire affair might be reported and documented in NewsNet, the ASEEES newsletter that goes to its some 3000 members, has also received no reply. Therefore, I am considering other possible forums for such glasnost.
Stephen F. Cohen