Letter in Support of KC JohnsonHistorians/History
HNN: The Case of KC Johnson
Chancellor Matthew Goldstein
The City University of New York
535 East 80th Street
New York, New York 10021
November 12, 2002
Dear Chancellor Goldstein:
We react with shock and dismay to Brooklyn College's denial of tenure to one of the most accomplished young historians in the country, Associate Professor Robert David Johnson of the History Department. This decision reflects a "culture of mediocrity" hostile to high academic standards-to use a term from The City University of New York task force.
Professor Johnson is a young scholar whose accomplishments are already worthy of a lifetime's achievement. Nine years after receiving his Ph.D. at Harvard, where he received an award for "outstanding teaching fellow," Johnson has published three books (two with Harvard University Press), edited a fourth, and is editor of two forthcoming volumes of The Lyndon Johnson Tapes. Currently he has two additional books under contract, one with Norton, the other with Cambridge University Press.
Students and faculty report that he is an extraordinary teacher. Some students have taken six or seven of his courses before graduating. Colleagues who have observed his class have offered comments such as "exemplary," "truly exceptional," "one of the best classes I have observed," and "one of the best instructors we have at Brooklyn College."
In addition, Johnson has carried a heavy load of departmental service, has conducted out-of-town history field trips for his students, and has spent time leading discussions on American history at a local high school.
Tenure should be judged on the basis of scholarship, teaching, and service. Nobody denies Johnson's outstanding success as a scholar and as a teacher. But in the spring of 2002 opponents of Johnson invented a fourth category-"collegiality"-and argued that it should outweigh sterling accomplishments in scholarship, teaching, and service combined.
Introducing a redundant category of collegiality rewards young professors who "go along to get along" rather than expressing independent scholarly judgment. It poses a grave threat to academic freedom, since the robust and unfettered exchange of ideas is central to the pursuit of truth.
If an outstanding young scholar such as Johnson is refused tenure, it will send a signal to the profession that the university is not hospitable to scholars with high standards, making it more difficult for the university to recruit promising young scholars.
We urge you to reverse this disastrous and unjust decision.
Akira Iriye; Charles Warren Professor of American History and Chair of the Department of History, Harvard University
Alan Brinkley; Allan Nevins Professor of History and Chair of the Department of History, Columbia University
Philip Zelikow; Director of the Miller Center of Public Affairs and White Burkett Miller Professor of History, University of Virginia
Donald A. Ritchie; Associate Historian, United States Senate
Ernest May; Charles Warren Professor of American History, Harvard University
Donald Kagan; Sterling Professor of Classics and History, Yale University
Charles Dew; Charles R. Keller Professor of History, Department of History, Williams College
Randall Bennett Woods; Distinguished Professor, Department of History, University of Arkansas
John Milton Cooper, Jr.; E. Gordon Fox Professor of American Institutions, University of Wisconsin, Madison
Robert Schulzinger; Professor of History, University of Colorado; editor, Diplomatic History
Eugene Genovese; Distinguished Scholar-in-Residence, University Center of Georgia
James Shenton; Professor Emeritus of History, Columbia University
Paula Fichtner; Professor Emerita and immediate past Chair of the Department of History, Brooklyn College
Frank Ninkovich; Professor of History, St. John's University
Timothy Naftali; Associate Professor of History and Director of the Presidential Recordings Project, Miller Center for Public Affairs, University of Virginia
Dennis C. Dickerson; Professor of History, Vanderbilt University
Gertrude Himmelfarb; Professor Emerita of History, Graduate School of the City University of New York
David Schmitz; Robert Allen Stokheim Chair of History, Whitman College
Thomas Alan Schwartz; Professor of History, Vanderbilt University
Margaret King; Professor of History, Brooklyn College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York
T. Christopher Jespersen; Professor of History and Chair of the Department of History, North Georgia University
Leonard Gordon; Professor Emeritus of History, Brooklyn College
Fredrik Logevall; Associate Professor, University of California, Santa Barbara
Martin Burke; Associate Professor, Lehman College and the Graduate Center of
the City University of New York