Allen Weinstein: The Overlooked Controversy in His Career


Mr. Shenkman is the editor of HNN.

  • Allen Weinstein's Statement in Response to This News Article

  • Allen Weinstein moved one step closer to becoming the next national archivist on Monday night, when the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs approved his nomination and forwarded it to the full Senate.--Chronicle of Higher Education 2-8-05

    On the eve of Monday's Senate committee vote recommending his nomination as Archivist of the United States, Allen Weinstein's reputation and character were called into question by people who lured him two decades ago to run a high-profile institute in California. In 1984 Weinstein was appointed to revive the fortunes of the Robert Maynard Hutchins Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions at the University of California at Santa Barbara. Eight months later he left in a cloud of doubts about his management abilities, according to a press account at the time. His resume includes a reference to his brief stint at UC Santa Barbara but the circumstances of his departure have received scant attention. At the Senate hearings on his nomination no one questioned him about his role at the Hutchins Center. It appears that Senate staff were not aware of the controversies that marked his tenure. They did not ask about his departure and he did not volunteer any details.

    According to a Los Angeles Times story on December 20, 1984--which was not available on the Internet when he was nominated for archivist and was therefore overlooked--Weinstein was "asked to step down as president" of the Hutchins Center after he reportedly "overspent his budget and failed to raise expected new revenue." At the time Weinstein was surprised by the turn of events, telling the Times he had only the "vaguest notion of what precipitated all of this." Two decades later he still seems somewhat mystified by what happened, telling HNN that his departure must have had to do with his decision to bring ideological diversity to the traditionally liberal institute.

    In a statement issued in response to this article, Weinstein deplored the timing of"twenty-year-old and reckless allegations, patently designed to attempt to create an issue related to my nomination to become Archivist of the United States." (Editor's Note: This story began with a phone call to HNN last week from a former employee at the National Archives, who brought to our attention Weinstein's controversial exit from the Hutchins Center.)

    Back in 1984 the Hutchins board kept largely quiet about the specific grievances that led to the end of his short career there. The then chairman of the board of the Hutchins, George David Kieffer, a Los Angeles lawyer who had been instrumental in bringing Weinstein out to the university, commented cryptically that "finances and fund-raising were ... not the sole or major factor. It was a personnel question, a management question that it was in the best interest of the center to make a change at this time."

    Today Kieffer, a prominent attorney, is the chairman of the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce. He told HNN that fundamentally what the controversy was about was Weinstein's character, adding that "on the basis of the experience that we had he would not be somebody that I would recommend for the position being suggested for him at this time." A second board member, who happens to be a historian, was more specific. Robert A. Huttenback, then chancellor of UC Santa Barbara and a Hutchins board member, told HNN that Weinstein was an "extremely sloppy" manager who had spent so much money on a conference at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel devoted to the Brown v. Board of Education decision that he "nearly bankrupted us." Weinstein disputes Huttenback, noting that if the conference "bankrupted the center what did we live on?" Peter Kelly, a prominent attorney and former treasurer of the Democratic Party who closely worked with Weinstein over two decades at several institutions including Hutchins, backs up Weinstein. "In the course of many many years of work we operated with budgets in the millions of dollars," Kelly told HNN, "and I can say to you that there was never any concern about his management of the projects."

    After leaving UC Santa Barbara Weinstein within weeks established a similar institution on the East coast, the Center for Democracy. The new center's first conference, which Weinstein had organized originally under the auspices of the Hutchins Center in Santa Barbara, featured speakers from some twenty democracies in Latin America. When he left he took the conference with him. Today Huttenback remembers that the Hutchins was stuck with the bill for rooms at the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles because Weinstein allegedly neglected to cancel the reservations. Both Weinstein and Kelly say this is the first they have heard of this. "I am stunned that something we never heard a word about," Kelly says, "is all of a sudden news and it just stuns me."

    Weinstein was the prime mover over the years in the formation of two institutions: the Center for Democracy, which he ran from 1985 to 2003, when it was folded into another democracy project, and the National Endowment for Democracy, which remains a powerful institution. At both places he succeeded in working with a broad spectrum of leaders including bipartisan boards featuring luminaries of Washington DC such as John Kerry and Joe Lieberman from the Democratic Party and Frank Fahrenkopf, Jr.and Henry Kissinger from the Republican Party. He says he is proud of what he has accomplished. As for what happened at UC Santa Barbara, he says, it was a "turning point in my life," for it led directly to his establishment of the influential Center for Democracy.

    Most of the concerns senators have expressed about Weinstein have had to do with his unwillingness to freely share Soviet documents he used in his books with other scholars, raising questions in some people's minds about his fitness for the job as chief archivist. He has escaped criticism in connection with the UC Santa Barbara institute because it has not generally been known that he was forced out. Weinstein today disputes that he was fired, insisting he resigned after a disagreement with his board about how to proceed in the future. But both Huttenback and Kieffer insist he was fired and the 1984 report in the Los Angeles Times confirms their interpretation that his resignation was requested. Kelly, whom Weinstein installed on the Hutchins board, told HNN that "I had no knowledge of that," referring to Weinstein's allegedly having been fired.

    Huttenback has had problems of his own. He was forced to resign as chancellor at UC Santa Barbara after he was accused of using university funds to renovate his private home, which he used for university functions. He was later convicted of grand larceny and tax evasion. But in 1996, following lengthy appeals, a judge set aside the verdict.

    The largest organization for which Weinstein has been responsible had an annual budget of between $6 to $8 million and a staff of several dozen, he told HNN. The National Archives has a budget of more than $300 million and a staff of some 3,000 scattered across the country. Weinstein is confident he can successfully manage the Archives. He told senators in his response to written questions, "it is important to recognize that the Archivist of the United States does not 'manage alone,' to paraphrase the popular book title, but [i]s the head of a talented and experienced leadership team.... I do not view the administrative responsibilities as Archivist as more daunting than the 'small business' model from which I have drawn most of my experience."

    Statement of Allen Weinstein

    The day after HNN interviewed Mr. Weinstein about the circumstances of his departure from the Robert Maynard Hutchins Center, he sent us the following statement.

    In March 1984, I became President of the Santa Barbara, California-based Robert Maynard Hutchins Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions. Until then, I had been a University Professor at Georgetown based at its Center for Strategic and International Studies, on leave while serving as Project Director of the study group which designed the National Endowment for Democracy, whose Acting President I had been in the months prior to leaving for Santa Barbara.

    After assuming the Hutchins Center presidency, I brought onto its then-predominately liberal Board of Directors several distinguished American conservative and moderate leaders in order to try and achieve bipartisan and ideological balance. Over the next seven months, the Center’s re-energized program schedule included a major televised commemoration of the 30 th anniversary of Brown v. Board, a landmark dialogue between the government and guerrillas of El Salvador televised internationally, and conferences on arms control and civil liberties. Growing tensions between the older (majority) Directors—who opposed my future plans—and myself erupted prior to a special December 1984 telephone Board meeting. I authorized two recent Directors who supported my strategy for reviving the Center, one Democratic and the other Republican, to tender my resignation as President during that telephone meeting. They did this and also resigned themselves.

    The following week, after Christmas, in Washington, DC, these two former Hutchins Directors and several other bipartisan, Washington-based political leaders—including the then-National Finance Chairman of the Democratic Party and the then-Chairman of the Republican Party (soon followed by the then-Chairman of the Democratic Party—joined me in incorporating The Center for Democracy as a nonpartisan foundation. The following month, January 1985, with a grant from USIA, our new Center and the Western Hemisphere Subcommittee of the House of Representatives co-hosted in the House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing room a three-day, tri-lingual (English, Spanish, and Portuguese) “Western Hemisphere Legislative Leaders Forum,” attended by parliamentarians from twenty-one democracies throughout the hemisphere. Several dozen members of the U.S. Congress attended the forum, and President Reagan spoke to the delegates in a special Indian Treaty Room ceremony. (See enclosed photo and news clip.)

    The allegation that I or the Directors supporting me had deliberately avoided payment on a Santa Barbara hotel booking is false. When the forum described above was moved to Washington, DC following my resignation as President and the resignations of all the Directors I had brought into the Hutchins Center, any previous arrangements made for the forum in Santa Barbara, to the best of my knowledge, were cancelled. In any event, such administrative matters were entirely under the control of the remaining Hutchins Directors and staff following my departure. Sadly, these last-minute, twenty-year-old and reckless allegations, patently designed to attempt to create an issue related to my nomination to become Archivist of the United States, are made by former friends who came to oppose my brief period as President of the Hutchins Center. I believe that all those interested in a fair-minded assessment of my abilities and achievements over the past quarter-century can evaluate for themselves both the validity of and the motivation behind these baseless charges.

    Related Links

  • News Stories About Allen Weinstein

  • Testimony of Allen Weinstein Regarding His Nomination as Archivist of the United States

  • Report on the Hearing on Allen Weinstein's Nomination as Archivist of the United States By Bruce Craig and Bryan Heyward

  • Allen Weinstein: Friends Praise His Integrity By Jo-Ann Moriarty

  • Allen Weinstein: Soft-Spoken Nominee for Archivist (But Was He Well-Prepared?) By Jennifer Johnson

  • The Real Issue at the Heart of the Weinstein Controversy By Maarja Krusten

  • A Debate: Should Allen Weinstein Be Confirmed as Chief Archivist of the United States? By Paul Gottfried, Ralph Luker, and Michael Etchison

  • Allen Weinstein: A Historian with a History By Jon Wiener

  • Allen Weinstein: Why He's Qualified for the Post of Archivist By Jacob Heilbrunn