The state of the historical profession is dire, and for younger scholars and contingent faculty members, it has become completely unacceptable. Graduate students do more and more teaching labor with fewer and fewer full-time jobs when they are done. Adjuncts are paid sub-poverty wages without health benefits and toil in obscurity as second-class members of their institutions, without voice, power, or job security. Those that speak out are often fired as "trouble makers." We are being told there is a problem with the "overproduction" of PhDs, yet the demand for adjunct labor grows more and more each year. Those lucky enough to get tenure-track jobs face departments that are increasing the number of students in the classroom as well as the publishing requirements for tenure, even at "teaching centered" universities. Young historians struggle to meet these requirements in an environment where university presses are downsizing and abandoning their knowledge-based missions in the pursuit of mass appeal and lucre. In the meantime, little sacrifice is being borne by older generations who get to sit in judgement on tenure cases, many times applying standards that they never could have dreamed of passing themselves.
Although the AHA has done more in the last two years to respond to these issues, it is still an institution centered around the interests of a minority of privileged historians with tenured positions at research universities. It was only when the scions of the profession's elite stopped finding good jobs that the organization bothered to pay attention. It still expects poverty-stricken graduate students and contingent faculty to pay prohibitively high travel expenses to have only one or two twenty minute job interviews at this very event, an event that symbolizes the powerlessness of junior scholars who must beg for book contracts and humiliate themselves for even the least desirable jobs. For far too long we have been pitted against each other in a vicious struggle for survival that for the majority of us is a losing game. Those days are over! Today, instead of desperately competing for jobs and book contracts, we demand that the AHA overcome its moribund inaction and do something to stop the destruction of an entire generation of historians.
Here is an impartial list of our proposals:
1. That the AHA officially repudiate the rhetoric of "overproduction" and acknowledge that the lack of good jobs is the biggest cause of the current crisis in employment for historians.
2. That the AHA create high-level positions in its organizational structure specifically intended to be filled by and to advance the interests of graduate students and contingency faculty members.
3. That the AHA encourage departments that persist in using non-tenured labor to establish permanent positions with decent pay, health benefits, and job security, and to officially censure those departments that fail to meet these standards.
4. That the AHA recognize the current crisis in academic publishing and encourage departments to make their tenure and hiring decisions accordingly.
5. That the AHA put an end to the conference job register and discourage the practice of on-site conference interviews, and encourage their replacement with preliminary interviews over the phone or via video chat.
6. That the AHA stop espousing the rhetoric that "there's little we can do to force universities and departments to change their hiring practices" and concentrate all of its power on doing that which it can do to alleviate the crisis.
7. That the AHA reduce its membership fees for graduate students and contingent faculty members.
8. That the AHA come up with clear guidelines in relation to online publications, so that junior scholars may be better rewarded for their academic accomplishments.
9. That the AHA locate future conferences on the basis of expense for conference attendees over any other factor, or failing that, subsidize attendance by adjuncts and graduate students.
10. That the AHA make alleviating the employment crisis for junior scholars its most important priority for the foreseeable future.
If that AHA refuses to respond to these demands, particularly the last, it will have proven itself to be a morally bankrupt, useless institution in the eyes of junior scholars, who will have no choice but to abandon it en masse. Remember: if we have no future, you won't have one either.
In solidarity and righteousness,
Werner Herzog's Bear