Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Blog CXCVII (197): The Rating Game

ANN ARBOR, MICHIGAN—The Obama administration is backing down on its effort to rank colleges and universities. It sounded like a good idea, but the administration quickly discovered that what sounds good at first, is often quite difficult to turn into a real plan.

Ted Mitchell, the undersecretary of education, was the administration official left to explain this policy retreat to the public. He said efforts to combine many measurements of a school into one score became exceptionally complicated. The administration also wanted to avoid “a black box that would be hard for consumers to penetrate and understand and that actually would not be an advance on the state of the art.” He explained further that the supposed simplicity of a single score “would belie a lot of complexity students and families need to understand. And it would mask some very big differences among institutions.”

Mitchell is right. As a historian, what do I care about the status of the business school. There a lot of other factors. Do students interested in Harvard or Yale really care much about graduation rates for transfer students at those institutions—which probably are very few? Mitchell probably knew that this effort was a foolish one. He is a former president of Occidental College. It has a strong tradition in the liberal arts, but it is not a place you would go to an engineering degree.

Why then, did this blog like idea of ranking history departments in the Clauset, Arbesman, Larremore article, “Systematic Inequality”? The short answer is that article had a specific criteria—the employment of history Ph.D.s at other Ph.D. granting institutions. Even then it had some serious flaws. Strong departments in European history, might not be the right place for an Americanist.

There are some big problems in academia, and some real strenghts.  The main driving force behind the Obama initiative was a good one—to make the system more transparent. Maybe they should have focused on that—standardizing reporting—instead of trying to create a lot more work for a bureaucracy, or to help with the real issues in higher education.    

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Administrative Post 40

There are even more additions to Blog CLXXXII.  These videos represent 60 departments from universities in Canada, France, Ireland, the Netherlands, Sri Lanka, the United Kingdom, and the United States.  All in all, it makes for interesting comparative viewing.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Blog CXCVI (196): Honors to the Blog

A couple of events transpired in the past few weeks on this blog that are worth noting.  In April "In the Service of Clio" set a record with 10 postings in one month.  That broke the record of seven that was set in December 2010 and then matched in January and November of 2011. In June that record got broken again.  This posting is the twelfth in the month.

The second thing worth noting, over the previous two years, the number of postings on the blog waned.  Each was a new low: 23 in 2013 and 11 in 2014.  This year, though, we published the thirty-fourth post on June 18 with Blog CXCII (192): Sarantakes vs. Canary.  In short, in this past month we surpassed the total for all of last year.  When combined with the other entries made this year, this month took 2015 over the top for the total of the last two combined.  That was the original goal when this year started.

We are not even close to being done, though.  There is a lot in the pipeline.  It will slow down a bit this summer as I work on my next book project, but more is coming on a lot of different topics, and given what is currently planned we should set a new record for postings in a year.

Stay tuned.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Blog CXCV (195): Hall of Fame

The College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Kentucky has a Hall of Fame.  My adviser for my MA thesis, George C. Herring, Jr. was inducted into this organization as a faculty member.  (The Hall inducts people in two categories: faculty and alumni).  "The Chief" is now a professor emeritus, but he has hardly slowed down.  The fifth edition of his book America’s Longest War: The United States and Vietnam, 1950-1975 was released in 2013.  If you are going to read only one book on that war, then it should be this one.  I can remember exactly when and where I was when I read the book for the first time: I was shivering under a dinning fly in wet, 50 degree weather in June of 1988 during Ranger training in the Baldy country of the Philmont Scout Ranch, Cimarron, New Mexico.  I remember thinking it ironic that I was reading about a jungle war on a wet, clammy day.  Needless to say, the book played a huge role in me deciding to become a diplomatic historian.

Herring is the dean of scholars writing on the Vietnam War, but he has many other achievements to his name.  He was the president of the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations, and was editor of the journal, Diplomatic History.  He supervised dozens of graduate students at the MA and Ph.D. levels.

The main focus of this blog is career management, but on this occasion, we will take some time to honor a distinguished scholar.  Below is a video that Arts and Sciences made about Herring for his induction:

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Blog CXCIV (194): The SMH White Paper and the Future of Military History

Everyone once in a while—okay, it is probably more than "once in a while"—I have surfed the internet to see how colleagues are reacting to this blog, if they are reacting at all.  Most people seem to appreciate the effort, even if they disagree with certain arguments.  I chuckled a bit at a comment that went something like: "useful, even if there is too much military history for my taste."

I chuckled because I am not a military historian; I am a diplomatic historian.  I understand why people make the mistake, I have worked at three schools in the professional military education system, and of those five books displayed on the right side of this blog, four look like military history at first glance.  (Actually only one is military history; three are diplomatic history; and one is film history).  More to the point, the comment reflects the low status of military history in the profession.

The Society for Military History is aware of their poor standing with their peers, and is trying to combat that status.  To that end, the organization authorized a whitepaper entitled "The Role of Military History in the Contemporary Academy.” The co-authors were Tami Davis Biddle of the U.S. Army War College and Robert M. Citino of the University of North Texas.  This project seems designed to reach key decision makers like college and university administrators, journalists, and politicians.

They quickly acknowledge the less than ideal standing of the field.  "The phrase 'military history' still stirs conflicted emotions or hostile reactions among those who teach history in the nation’s colleges and universities."  There are some reasons for that reaction.  "The challenges facing those who study war extend beyond the fact their terrain is challenging, morally-freighted, and emotionally-draining."  There is, however, more to it than that.  "Part of the problem stems from the way that military history is, and has been, identified and categorized inside American popular culture." It is a very popular topic with the general public.  "Anyone walking into a large bookstore will find, in most cases, a sizable section labeled 'military history.' Some of the work located there will be of high qualityserious, deeply researched, and conforming to the highest scholarly standards; but some of it will consist of shallow tales of adventure and conquest, written for an enthusiastic but not terribly discerning audience. Some of it will cover esoteric topics that appeal to those with highly particularized interests, such as military uniforms, weapons types, or aircraft markings."  These points are basically correct.  A point they did not make is that most military history in the United States is land-centric.  The U.S. Army is the most studied institution.  In fact, the Confederate States Army has been the subject of more writing than the U.S. Navy, even though the sea service has a much longer record for individuals to examine.  Biddle and Citino also note, "Popular military history varies immensely in quality, and there is a great gulf between the best and the worst it has to offer. Outside the subfield, all this work tends to be lumped together, however, and academics with little exposure to serious scholarship in the field may assume that it is a discipline defined by the weaker side of the spectrum."

Despite being less than popular with their colleagues, Biddle and Citino argue that military historians might be the best asset a department has to offer.  "Our students’ desire for knowledge creates an important opportunity for Departments of History. The late recession has produced a drop in humanities majors as students seek courses that seem more likely to produce an immediate payoff in terms of jobs and wages. Legislative budget cuts have forced even state schools to conform to a tuition-driven model, and departments that cannot attract a sufficient number of students can expect hard times to get harder." All of that is true, but that fact that students often vote with their feet or their tuition is something that decision makers should consider. "University college administrators, particularly college deans and chairs of History Departments, may find some relief in the appeal of military history. Courses in military history tend to fill, not only with history majors and minors, but also with students from other disciplines who are interested in the field. And because military history intersects regularly with the profession’s other subfields, it can serve as an ideal gateway to the other specializations any given History Department has to offer. It may, as well, lure back some of the students who have been drawn away to political science, international relations, and public policy departments."

Your average faculty member might easily dismiss such considerations as a form of academic pandering or whoring.  Administrators—good or bad—cannot. If classes generate heavy enrollments, they make it possible for departments to offer classes that generate smaller numbers; they also make it possible to employ graduate students as graders and teaching assistants. 

There are slightly more noble reasons as well to employee military historians.  "It is incumbent upon those who train our college and university students—our next generation of civilian leaders—to address the civilian side of the equation. They must teach today’s students about the role of the military in a democracy, the blunt character of military force, and the lasting consequences of the decision to wage war." That argument seems more aimed at the journalists, and politicians, but Biddle and Citino are basically correct.  "To ignore the study of such an enterprise is, in the end, corrosive of the Constitutional principles that legitimize choice and action in the American system of government. The strong body of literature produced by contemporary military historians, and the knowledge and pedagogical skills that they bring to the classroom, can surely help in this crucial task."

It is hardly a surprise that the Society for Military History commissioned this essay.  The SMH is a good organization full of a lot of academic innovation.  The first academic conference I attended in a foreign country was its annual meeting in 2001.  It is also one of the few American scholarly organizations to elect a foreign national teaching at a foreign institution of higher education to serve as its president.  It is also a well-run and administered.  I would guess that over half of the members of the organization have jobs that we currently call "alternative academic."  As a result, they are well-run because many of their members have day-to-day work responsibilities unlike your average academic.

Military history has never, ever been popular with the historical profession.  That was a lesson I learned when I researched and wrote on Theodore Roosevelt's tenure as president of the AHA.  There was no golden time when it was an accepted and respected sub-field.

This paper is a creative attempt to leverage the strengths of the SMH and/or military history.  Like it or not administrators make the real decisions on which departments will get the funding to create new faculty positions or replace old ones. Faculty types tend to get angry and personalize decision making when deans fail to act according to how they believe they should; which is the only possibly correct thing to do, period.  The thing is, though, that a dean is never going to be able to weight the intellectual merits of one subfield in history against another, or work in history versus sociology versus English literature when they are a political scientist. In the end, it will be administrative issues that will carry the day. It seems likely that outsiders (deans, board of trustee members, etc.) will be swayed more by what Biddle and Citino contend than history faculty, and those decision makers are the ones that are really important in the end.  It should be interesting to see what comes of it in the months to follow.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Blog CXCIII (193): What I Do

The American Historical Association started an interview series called "What I Do."  Representatives of the Association have interviewed historians that are using their Ph.D.s outside of traditional academic venues.  This series is featured on both the organization's web site as well as its YouTube channel. The videos below and their captions are taken directly from these locals and are provided to give readers of this blog some more ideas on how they can use their degrees outside of a traditional academic venue.

Rachel Reinhard talks about her role as the director of the University of California, Berkeley History-Social Science Project, which serves, she says, "as a bridge between the university and K-12 classrooms, and to support the professional development of K-12 instruction."

Carol Geary Schneider speaks about her role as president of the Association of American Colleges and Universities and how she uses her background in history to further the AAC&U's mission: advancing and strengthening liberal education.

LuAnn Jones talks about her role as a historian in the Park History Program, and how she uses her background in oral history to train and teach in a variety of interdisciplinary settings.

John A. Lawrence sits down for an interview and talks about his time on Capitol Hill and how a historian's training helped him see what's really important, in any environment.

Lincoln Bramwell, Chief Historian, U.S. Forest Service, discusses his career path, which began as a volunteer firefighter alongside his graduate degree work, never imagining that these two interests would ever combine. He describes his daily work at the Forest Service and the surprising ways in which he was able to bring his training in history and passion for firefighting together at the Forest Service.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Blog CXCII (192): Sarantakes vs. Canary

In January the newsletter of the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations, Passport, published an article I wrote proposing a series of initiatives the organization could take to help resolve the job crisis. SHAFR is the main organization for U.S. diplomatic historians.  This article was in direct response to another article: Brian C. Etheridge, “SHAFR and the Future of the Profession,” Passport: The Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations Review, vol. 43, no. 1 (April 2012), 50-51.  Ethridge was the associate provost for academic innovation at the University of Baltimore and is now the director of the Center for
Brian C. Etheridge
Teaching Excellence at Georgia Gwinnett College. In this article, he proposed that diplomatic historians adopt Ernest L. Boyer’s four different categories of scholarship in the study of U.S. diplomatic history: the scholarship of discovery; the scholarship of integration; the scholarship of application; and the scholarship of teaching and learning. I had mixed reactions to the article, but it was a stimulating read.  I will not repeat his suggestions in detail.  I would recommend a number of people read it, though.

As I wrote at the time, "The problem with Etheridge’s proposal is that it does not really resolve the big problem facing SHAFR—the fact that there are more historians than history jobs. Even if we do change the nature of what we recognize as scholarship, it will not change that fact."

Do not get me wrong.  Etheridge’s article offers some good ideas.  More importantly, it simulated my own thinking about actions that SHAFR can take to help individual diplomatic historians.  My article is: The proper citation is: Nicholas Evan Sarantakes, "In Search of a Solution: SHAFR and the Jobs Crisis in the History Profession," Passport: The Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations Review, vol. 45, no. 3 (January 2015), 37-38.  Unlike most other organizations representing history sub-fields, SHAFR is a well-organized and funded organization. In the article, I argued "These assets can and should be leveraged to help the more junior members of our field find meaningful employment."  To that end, I offered the following recommendations, which are abridged from the original article:
1. Create two new committees and/or vice-president positions to oversee them. The first should be for schoolteachers. This committee can offer important advice to SHAFR members who want to go into this field on the requirements for getting teaching jobs, which usually vary from state to state... The second should be for professional practitioners: scholars who are using their degrees in government service or history out in the public sphere... The goal would be to make it easier for individuals to move from one field to another. 
2. Diversify and improve the visibility of the SHAFR conference. Most of what SHAFR does at its annual meeting is great and I want to see that continue, but there are certain things that we
can do to offer more services to members. First, we can designate a certain percentage of sessions—perhaps five to ten percent—for discussing the teaching of U.S. diplomatic history... We could also have a series of “The History Ph.D. as . . .” sessions, where several historians who work at institutions other than history departments—think tanks, for example—discuss their experience with and answer questions about these environments. How do you find a job at one of these organizations? How much time do you have to work on your own scholarship? How well does it pay? What unexpected perks or problems are there in this type of work?...  Each session should be devoted to a specific field and have several speakers, since experiences differ... The profession would benefit if we promoted the conference systematically. The more attention the organization and the field receive, the better for all concerned. Raising the profile of diplomatic history helps improve its standing with colleagues in other fields who often make the decisions on what positions a department will hire. SHAFR has done well in having C-SPAN show up and record a few sessions, but we need more than one or two sessions airing at 9 p.m. on a Saturday night... 
3. Provide access to scholarly databases as part of SHAFR membership. SHAFR should make an arrangement with the likes of JSTOR and Project MUSE to make access to these databases a benefit that comes with SHAFR membership. Most SHAFR members will not need this type of assistance, but it will be a real benefit to graduate students, those that have graduated and have lost their access to university libraries, or are doing adjunct work, which often comes with restricted access to university libraries and their subscriptions to these databases... 
4. Write letters. Despite what we like to think about faculty governance, deans rather than faculty committees make the final decisions about the fields in which a department will hire. SHAFR should leverage some of the phenomenal success it has enjoyed of late (three SHAFR members have won the Pulitzer Prize in the last ten years, and another three were finalists) to convince deans to authorize searches for diplomatic historians... 
5. Create summer job placement workshops. My final proposal is that SHAFR begin running a summer workshop for newly minted history Ph.D.s to help them find alternative careers. To be effective, this type of program would have to be a multi-week residential program that combines a mini-MBA course with some training in writing résumés and preparing for interviews. This summer institute should also help with networking and bring in corporate and not-for-profit recruiters to meet with the participants.... 
The objections to this type of program are understandable. Students went to graduate school because they wanted academic careers, and SHAFR is a scholarly organization. Job placement is outside of its mission. These objections are easy to answer. For most people in graduate programs right now, a meaningful academic career is not realistic. The statistics make that clear. The real choice is between a non-academic career (or perhaps it is better describe as an alternative career) or none at all. SHAFR is also in a good position to create such a program...
Andrew Johns, the editor of Passport, arranged for Etheridge to respond to my essay, which he did in the same issue.  The proper citation is: Brian C. Etheridge, "Canary in a Coal Mine," Passport: The Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations Review, vol. 45, no. 3 (January 2015), 38-39.  Below is an excerpt from his article:
I agree with many of the helpful suggestions that Sarantakes has offered about potential actions that SHAFR could take to strengthen the profession. I think his best idea is diversifying the program of the annual SHAFR meeting. Sarantakes is right that more time needs to be devoted to teaching the history of American foreign relations. After all, most professors at most institutions spend most of their time teaching, and most of us have had little or no formal preparation in how to teach effectively. He is also on target in encouraging sessions about employment outside of the academy, led by those who have successfully carved out careers for themselves in other related industries. Finally, I strongly endorse his idea of better promoting the conference to outside stakeholders. I believe that all of these actions would make SHAFR, and by extension the profession, stronger. 
But I’m afraid that I must continue to differ with Sarantakes on the crux of the matter. In this regard, I don’t disagree so much with his prescriptions as with his diagnosis of the problem. In Sarantakes’s view, the really big issue confronting SHAFR is “that there are more historians than history jobs.” While I agree that the jobs crisis is a very real and difficult challenge confronting far too many young, talented historians, I see it as more symptomatic of larger ills facing the profession and discipline... 
In my view, the jobs crisis in diplomatic history, and in the humanities in general, is a product of the larger dilemma facing the liberal arts. States from Virginia to California are in various stages of creating databases that enable them to track student progression through higher education and into the work force. With the growing emphasis in state legislatures on career and workforce development, the liberal arts are often dismissed, as is reflected in the rhetoric of many of the nation’s leaders. “If I’m going to take money from a citizen to put into education,” Republican Governor Rick Scott of Florida declared, “then I’m going to take that money to create jobs.” He later wondered, “Is it a vital interest of the state to have more anthropologists?”... “False [sic] crisis narratives have real effects.” They can lead, for example, to the neglect of the humanities during strategic planning sessions on local campuses. 
To help battle the negative stereotypes surrounding a liberal education, we need to expand our own notion, and in turn the understanding of the public, about what we do. Herein lay my original call for expanding our notion of scholarship—our creative contribution to the body of knowledge—and thus redefining our collective worth to society. In addition to the continuing value we provide to society through our research on the history of America’s encounter with the world, we need to broaden our understanding of our creative activity to include innovations in teaching, the application of our historical understanding to contemporary crises, and collaboration with other disciplines to tackle the big issues: what many have called the “wicked problems” plaguing our global society. SHAFR can support such an agenda, not only by providing more time and space on its annual program, but by helping redefine what counts as creative work in our profession and thereby helping rebrand our profession over time for a larger audience.
I think the exchange was good.  Both of us respected the ideas the other guy was offering.  I also believe both of us would have no problem seeing SHAFR adopt the other guy's ideas.  The journal of the organization, Diplomatic History, already publishes "the scholarship of discovery," and the organization could easily mandate that it have regular features for the other types of scholarship, or it could change the focus of Passport, or it could even create another publication in print or on-line that would produce the other three types of scholarship that Boyer advocated.  As already noted, Ethridge called my suggestions "helplful."  SHAFR has some ideas in front of it, hopefully it will respond in one way or another.  More importantly, hopefully readers of this blog will take these ideas to their own scholarly organizations.