American Council of Learned Societies
Occasional Paper No. 38

Copyright © 1997, American Council of Learned Societies

Report of the President,

Stanley N. Katz

This year's President's Report covers not only the past year, but the full eleven years I have had the privilege of serving as President of the American Council of Learned Societies. I intend to survey in broad terms the course we have traveled and where we stand as we prepare to welcome John D'Arms as ACLS's next President.


Awarding fellowships for humanistic scholarship is, traditionally, the most important activity of ACLS. For most of our history, ACLS relied on term grants from national foundations and the federal government for the funds to make these awards. During the 1970s and early 1980s, however, the national foundations withdrew from the practice of making grants for the purpose of regranting for fellowships to individual scholars. We recognized that the federal government might withdraw as well. It was therefore imperative that we build an endowment to support our fellowship awards.

Endowment-building efforts began with Frederick Burkhardt's 50th Anniversary Campaign in 1969, and were continued with Bob Lumiansky's 60th Anniversary Campaign, and Bill Ward's initiation of a Capital Fund Raising Campaign. Building on Bill's preparation, I completed that campaign by obtaining one million dollars each from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Ford, Rockefeller, and Andrew W. Mellon Foundations. In 1990, we received an additional endowment grant pledge of $2,500,000 from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. As part of our new approach, we also changed the Council's investment strategy to a total-return approach and moved to a diversified portfolio, half of which is now invested in equities. In consequence we have enjoyed considerable endowment growth since the late 1980s.

At the close of the 1996 fiscal year, the ACLS endowment totalled $38,586,989, of which $23,345,414 is devoted exclusively to supporting fellowships. With prudent spending rates, we expect to be able to sustain indefinitely the present real dollar level of $1.1 million each year in awards—currently providing fifty-five fellowships at $20,000.

One of the purposes of building an endowment was to ensure the continuation of the ACLS core fellowship program despite the uncertainty of external term funding. Over a period of several years in the early 1990s, the Grants-in-Aid and the Fellowships for Recent Recipients of the Ph.D. were gradually collapsed into the present unitary ACLS Fellowship Program. This allowed us to build the fellowship endowment and to raise the maximum stipend from $15,000 to $20,000. The result has been that the ACLS Fellowship Program, almost fully dependent upon term grants in the mid-1980s, is today fully funded by our own endowment income.

While continuing to look for ways to increase the endowment, we have also sought additional funding for other types of fellowships and grants. In doing this, we have tried to develop programs where funds were available and where the interests of the funders were compatible with ACLS priorities. In 1991-92 we received a grant from the Henry Luce Foundation to administer a program of dissertation fellowships for doctoral students in American art history. The program has been very successful and was renewed by Luce last spring for another five years.

In 1993-94 we received a three-year grant from the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation, with additional grants from the National Research Council/National Academy of Sciences for UNESCO-related activities, to support a program of $500 awards for travel to international meetings abroad. During the past year, with funds from the Nathan Cummings Foundation, we initiated a fellowship program to support scholars in developing university-level courses and teaching materials that explore contemplative practice. This has been a developmental year for the program, but I expect that funds for an additional period will be available. The general availability of funds for fellowship and grant programs, however, is obviously very limited, and I would not wish to give the impression that securing additional fellowship money will be an easier task in the future.

International Studies:
American Studies, Area Studies, and Beyond

The founding purpose of ACLS was to represent American scholarship abroad and thereby to build connections with academics and intellectuals throughout the world. After World War I, an invitation for the U.S. to join the Union Académique Internationale (UAI) was presented to historian J. Franklin Jameson of the Library of Congress. While the academies of most other countries represented in the UAI were composed of selected individuals, Jameson felt that following suit would be "incompatible with our democratic ethos." He proposed instead that the U.S. be represented by a federation of learned societies. The ACLS was thus organized in 1919 and formally incorporated in 1924.

This basic mission has taken many forms throughout the history of the Council, and especially in the past eleven years. We have supported international scholar exchange, research planning and conference activities, and international programs aimed at establishing or re-establishing academic relations with isolated countries. Some of the major programs in these areas are discussed below. In carrying out these programs, we have sought to adhere to several guiding principles.

Most basically, the Council's international work is a recognition of the ideal that knowledge and scholarship are not bounded by political and cultural borders and are inherently transnational. We have proceeded from the assumption that the internationalization of scholarship is valuable in itself: we can understand our own culture only in relation to others. Furthermore, we believe that the growth and strengthening of the global academy can only accelerate the advance of knowledge in all fields. The international presence of the ACLS gives voice to principles of academic freedom, the integrity of scholarship, and the open community of knowledge. We have sought to provide opportunities which might not otherwise exist for American scholars to carry out scholarly projects on an international basis.

American Studies Program. My first formal contact with ACLS before becoming President was as a member of the American Studies Program's Advisory Committee. For thirty-five years, from 1961 to 1996, this program helped develop and sustain communities of Americanists overseas. Its basic mechanism was to provide advanced research fellowships at American institutions, usually for scholars at the assistant or associate professor level. In thirty years, we supported more than 1,300 ACLS American Studies Fellows from twenty-seven different countries. It is particularly worth noting that the program supported scholars from Eastern Europe starting in 1968, long before the end of the Cold War. Many of today's leaders in international American Studies are alumni of the program.

The American Studies Program was funded through a complex matching fund arrangement whereby funds from or for particular countries were matched by core funds provided by the Ford and Mellon Foundations. After many years of generous grants, those foundations discontinued their support after 1996. A search for other donors was unavailing. That the program has come to an end can be seen as part of the natural life cycle of externally funded programs, especially fellowship programs which are by their very nature quite expensive. This outcome, at one level, is to be expected, but it also points to the difficulty of maintaining infrastructural programs. I would add that in addition to benefiting many individual scholars, the American Studies Program provided ACLS with an extraordinary network of international contacts that continue to be of valuable to other program activities.

ACLS-SSRC Joint Area and International Programs. One of the key elements of the Council's international programs has been the work undertaken jointly with the Social Science Research Council in area and international studies. For more than thirty years, the program of the two Councils was carried out by a series of area-based committees jointly appointed by the two Councils and administered by one or the other. In 1996, after long and wide discussions, the two Councils redesigned their joint program, and the new structure is only now being put in place

Under the "old" structure, we administered two of the eleven joint area committees: the Joint Committee on Eastern Europe, founded in 1971; and the Joint Committee on Chinese Studies, founded in 1982. The unique role of the committees was the administration of national competitions to award scholarships to students and scholars for research and training, and the national distribution of relatively small amounts of money for cooperative research projects and other activities of importance to the development of scholarship. The committees themselves were composed of knowledgeable groups of scholars, thereby ensuring that decisions about policy and allocations were made on the basis of merit. Committee members were both experts in the area and specialists in particular disciplines. They were drawn from universities and colleges throughout the world, and they served without compensation. Few comparable associations of scholars exist anywhere in the world, even in the largest research universities.

The most important aspect of the committees' work was the identification and clarification of research priorities and the support and encouragement of excellent work in existing disciplines, interdisciplinary areas, and emerging or evolving fields. The committees encouraged scholars to devote themselves to difficult and long-term projects of lasting significance, through both open competitions and the work organized by our committees.

The committees' fellowship competitions were among the least problematic and most widely known and respected components of the Councils' research support. With smaller grants, the committees also organized research projects themselves or encouraged other scholars to do so: some topics, because of their complexity or their innovative character, seem to be more amenable to collaborative approaches and less likely to be attempted by individual scholars.

Joint Committee on Chinese Studies (JCCS). The mandate of the JCCS was to support the field of China Studies while maintaining a balance between the humanities and the social sciences and promoting interdisciplinary exchanges to enhance both traditional and contemporary studies. Its primary concern was the promotion of scholarly research, but it also tried to represent the general interests of China research specialists to other institutions concerned with public education, library resources, and language training. Simply put, the main contribution of the JCCS was to encourage and support research and training of the highest quality on China, and in this it did well.

The field of China Studies has been revolutionized in recent years because of new access to the PRC for research and training: American students and scholars are better trained, especially in languages and cultural awareness; and immigrant scholars from the PRC enrich our departments. As ideological constraints have diminished, both in the PRC and in Taiwan, new collaborative possibilities have arisen. To a large degree because of the Committee on Scholarly Communication with China (which I discuss later), we have begun to develop unprecedented field research opportunities, almost unlimited new access to libraries and archives in the PRC, and access to rich new varieties of research materials completely unavailable in the past. These changes have made possible the expansion of research on China to previously obscure areas, the re-evaluation of existing scholarly paradigms and bodies of received knowledge on Chinese culture and society, the investigation of newly salient issues, and the utilization of new theoretical or methodological approaches.

The record of the JCCS is quite strong. We are especially proud of its Studies on China, a refereed series published by the University of California Press, containing the best of the conference volumes resulting from projects the Committee sponsored. These volumes, twenty-one in the last fourteen years, are concrete examples of the range of the Committee's work, indicating the involvement therein of large numbers of diverse scholars in and out of the China field. These volumes have helped define the field of China Studies by creating new areas of research; they are valuable teaching resources; and they have influenced the scholarship of other areas of the world. We have been able to publish two or three such volumes a year for over a decade. Of particular influence have been volumes onelite groups, kinship ties, women's studies, and the importance of cities.

Joint Committee on Eastern Europe (JCEE). The JCEE, now succeeded by the ACLS Working Group on East Europe, took advantage of the new opportunities provided by the opening of the area after 1989 and the increased scholarly interest in Eastern Europe to expand and to consolidate scholarship on the area. Specifically, the Committee attempted to promote scholarship in the area itself, to encourage wider non-specialist scholarly interest, and to strengthen the ties of East European specialists to their disciplines. The Committee simultaneously served three audiences: the disciplinary specialist interested in science in the abstract; the area specialist interested in East Europe; and the scholar from the area with important talents, insights, and experience.

Amply funded by the U.S. State Department's Title VIII program and other sources, the Committee has tried to provide a balanced, comprehensive set of programs designed to develop the field. They have included fellowships for graduate student training, dissertation research, and post-doctoral research; grants for language training and for travel to East Europe for graduate students; and sponsorship of research conferences. It has provided 238 full-year fellowships and almost one thousand summer grants in the last eleven years. Funding for Eastern Europe has been strong since before 1989, although it is now in jeopardy. The Committee also sponsors a very important journal, East European Politics and Societies, published by the University of California Press.

The Committee's major concern was to promote rich, productive interaction between conceptual knowledge of the area and general theory in the social sciences and humanities. The Committee sought balance; it felt strongly that a scholarship not sensitive and competent to deal with the subtleties of culture, languages, geography, history, and other "details" often misinterprets the underlying logic of social dynamics by forcing them into abstract, rigid frameworks.

At this time, much of the scholarly enterprise within East Europe is collapsing because of precipitous declines in financial support. Ideological blinders and more direct political constraints no longer exist, but scholars in East Europe often lack the resources needed to take advantage of even the most basic new opportunities. Archival resources not previously accessible are available, but for how long is uncertain. Scholarly publishing networks are collapsing. The Committee tried in a variety of ways to help scholars and scholarly institutions adjust to this new environment. It also tried to promote better collaborative ties with scholars from East Europe. The Committee organized its first meetings in Eastern Europe before 1989, and since then it has regularly met or held conferences in the area.

There are many reasons for serious concern about the prospects for area studies, including the growing popularity of comparative and international studies in this country. At the same time, there are clear indications of strength, vitality, and productivity: scholars specializing in area studies have produced a greater, more sophisticated understanding of the world; they have created many new fields of knowledge and more advanced levels of training; and they have applied that knowledge to a broad array of urgent social problems. ACLS remains strongly committed to the project of area studies as it is central to the larger humanities enterprise.

The New ACLS-SSRC International Program. This report can only briefly outline the form and function of the new ACLS-SSRC international program structure. The new program, like the old one, provides for pre- and post-doctoral fellowships and training, research planning, and area-based discussion. Most of these activities, however, are organized across area lines. The competitions for pre- and post-doctoral fellowships have been centralized at SSRC and ACLS, respectively. The Councils will seek to develop new research projects via seed grants awarded to transnational, transdisciplinary networks of researchers. Special committees will also consider issues of scholarly infrastructure and formation. Eight panels of scholars studying particular regions will provide advice and programmatic suggestions from area-based perspectives.

Much that is inadequate and inaccurate has been written about this redesign. The Councils, in fact, can be justifiably proud of their work in developing area studies. This has been a very great personal interest of mine as well as an important reason wny I wanted to have the ACLS include as member societies all the area studies societies. The new international program does not abandon area studies, but rather builds on the strong foundation built over the past forty years in order to bring place-based knowledge into engagement with a new range of issues.

Council for International Exchange of Scholars (CIES): The Senior Fulbright Program. When the Fulbright Program began, ACLS, the Social Science Research Council, the National Academy of Science, and the American Council on Education joined to form the Conference Board of Associated Research Councils as the governing authority for the domestic administration of the Senior (faculty) Fulbright Program. The intent was, and remains, to separate academic peer review and grant administration from direct government administration by the United States Information Agency. Two of these Councils—first NAS and then ACE—took the fiduciary and managerial responsibility for CIES.

I served as Chairman of the CIES Board during the early Reagan years when it took a major mobilization of the scholarly community to resist what then seemed like drastic cuts to the Senior Fulbright Program. In administering the Senior Fulbright Program, CIES sought a closer relationship with the scholarly community, which it relied upon for applicants, peer-reviewers, and placements of visiting Fulbrighters. When I became President of ACLS, I was determined that ACLS take a strong position in support of the Senior Fulbright Program as one of the few opportunities available to scholars qua scholars for study abroad, regardless of the international connections of their institution. For all these reasons, CIES sought and I welcomed an affiliation with ACLS as the legal parent of CIES. It is unfortunate that in the last few years, the funding climate has become even more dire than we imagined in the early 1980s. As federal cutbacks ordained staff cuts at exchange agencies, we realized that financial liabilities might be imposed upon ACLS (a fact brought home by the experience with the CSCC described later in this report). Therefore, I reluctantly concluded that we could no longer assume responsibility for CIES. Our first duty was to protect the endowment so painfully built up over the years. Accordingly, on January 1, 1997, the Institute for International Education assumed responsibility for CIES.

Opening Contacts: Vietnam, China, Cuba and Beyond. I have taken it as a principle of our international work that scholarship be insulated from politics and that the Council advance academic principles by practical work as well as by advocacy. Our strategic position as a mediating agency is again important in this respect. We have stood for academic administration of the Senior Fulbright Program to be sure that peer review and grant management remain separate from direct governmental administration. In several areas, ACLS has provided for academic exchange and research contact in advance of diplomatic relations or in the face of political hostility between states. In earlier years, ACLS helped to create the International Research & Exchanges Board (IREX) to oversee such programs in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. Founded in 1968, IREX became an independent organization in 1991. During my years as President, we have also undertaken important work in China, Vietnam, and, most recently, Cuba.

Committee on Scholarly Communication with China (CSCC). The CSCC (formerly the CSCPRC) has been, simultaneously, one of my most gratifying and frustrating concerns. It is a marvelously effective and important organization, but its funding is seriously endangered, having fallen by 75% since Tiananmen. The CSCC is jointly sponsored by the ACLS, the National Academy of Sciences, and the SSRC. The CSCC administers the National Program for Advanced Study and Research in China, a nationwide, competitive program providing support for scholarly research and training. By facilitating research in China, the CSCC supports the best of U.S. scholarship and trains the teachers whose work will produce a more widespread and nuanced public awareness of China and U.S.-China relations.

Founded in 1966, the CSCC was initially more a vision than a reality, because American scholars had not been routinely able to study and conduct research in China since the 1940s. 1966 was of course also the height of the Chinese Cultural Revolution, and there seemed little chance that the situation might change. But in 1972, following President Nixon's visit to China, and especially after normalization of U.S.-China relations in 1978, American scholars supported by the CSCC had their first direct contacts with the mainland in more than two decades. CSCC's sending of students and scholars to China since then has been a singular and vital part of the revolution in China Studies described earlier in this report. The first class of scholars who went to China in 1979 sometimes had disappointing experiences, but most succeeded in unexpected ways. Everything had to be negotiated, in the words of an early grantee, but everything was therefore negotiable. Graduate students and research scholars often learned when and where they least expected. But they could stay in China for as long as a year at one location, and they had time to sink deeply into their environments, to penetrate layers of social life, and to gain access to libraries, archives, and the thinking and memories of remarkable Chinese colleagues.

The situation subsequently changed dramatically. Perhaps the greatest improvement was simply the increased understanding on both sides. Chinese officials have learned what to expect of visiting American scholars, and Americans have learned to build upon the visits of earlier grantees and their advice on everything from the mundane to the erudite. Greater mutual familiarity means that it is no longer necessary to devote much energy to alleviating political suspicions, and that it is possible to focus instead on research. The more relaxed atmosphere allows scholars to develop wide ranges of contacts, and personal contacts are essential to accomplishing anything in China, including obtaining access to research material not available through formal channels. Political problems remain, however, and changes in China have created new problems. Most seriously, economic reform has brought financial problems to the fore as the most serious barrier to research. Our grantees face unpredictable charges for everything from scholarly affiliation to housing and interviews. If the possibilities seem boundless, the costs often seem prohibitive—and this at a time when our funding is jeopardized.

Last summer, to reduce our administrative costs, we transferred the administration of CSCC to ACLS in New York and closed the CSCC's Washington office. We are confident that will not affect the quality of the National Program. We will maintain the CSCC's Beijing office, an essential element of that program.

The most valuable features of the CSCC have been, first, its capacity to place grantees in appropriate host institutions in China and thereby enhance their ability to carry out successful research, and, second, the reputation, recognized throughout China, of its grantees for professional competence and ethical behavior. This program differs from the other fellowship programs at ACLS in that the more difficult work—the placement of fellows in China—begins rather than ends at the point of selection. Therefore, the most valuable and distinguishing feature of the CSCC has been its capacity to support grantees and thereby enable them to carry out successful research in China. Maintaining the established record of the CSCC and its grantees for professional competence and ethical behavior is our essential goal. This said, I doff my cap to the indefatigable and admirable Keith Clemenger, who manages our Beijing CSCC office.

Vietnam Programs. Vietnam programs have become a distinct element of the Council's programming since 1990. As noted earlier, the ACLS has had an historic role in developing scholarly contact with foreign academic communities in countries politically estranged from the United States. ACLS management of the International Research & Exchanges Board during the Cold War and its establishment (with SSRC and NAS) of the CSCPRC are only the most apparent instances of this role.

Why are we in Vietnam? ACLS work in Vietnam has two related dimensions. It is pioneering work establishing the infrastructure for academic exchange, scholarly communication, and eventual research collaboration. It is also, one hopes, exemplary work establishing open and high-quality programs in these areas. In 1993, the United States Information Agency awarded ACLS a contract to develop a program of fellowships for Vietnamese scholars under authority of the Fulbright-Hays Act of 1961. The ACLS cooperates with other private organizations in administering this program: the Harvard Institute for International Development (HIID) and ACLS interview Vietnamese candidates and counsel them in the development of applications; ACLS, HIID, and the Institute for International Education place the successful applicants at American institutions and administer fellowships in the U.S.; and finally, HIID and ACLS cooperate in managing a teaching program with American faculty in economics in Ho Chi Minh City.

It is especially worth noting that ACLS has been able to obtain the agreement of the Vietnamese authorities for the open operation of the recruitment and selection process. Through extensive contacts with Vietnamese ministries, universities, and institutions, the program has been able to stimulate significant interest in Fulbright opportunities. Program staff then channel that interest into a deliberate and careful process of interviewing, testing, and application counseling in order to develop qualified applicants for review by a distinguished selection committee appointed by the ACLS. As of this report there have been 148 Vietnam Fulbright Fellowships awarded under the program. The teaching program opened in September 1994, and so far more than 125 students have gone through its several elements.

The second element of our Vietnam programming has been the sponsorship of the Center for Educational Exchange with Vietnam, directed by the remarkable Minh Kauffman. The Center is an ACLS affiliate that provides support for the Fulbright Program, university exchanges, and high-level contacts. Its offices are in Philadelphia and Hanoi. The overarching goal of the Center is to make external educational resources available to Vietnam and to improve contact among Vietnamese, American, and regional scholars.

Cuba. Cuba is our next frontier for fostering renewed scholarly communication. Together with SSRC, and with support from the Christopher Reynolds and MacArthur Foundations, we have sent a first delegation to Cuba in June 1996. Subsequently we have used a new mechanism of the ACLS/SSRC International Program and appointed a Working Group on the United States and Cuba to initiate programs of joint activity and scholarly exchange. This committee, which I chair and which includes scholars from both Cuba and Mexico, traveled to Cuba for its second meeting in June of this year. We plan to work in partnership with the Cuban Academy of Sciences, and we hope to carry out in the Caribbean activities similar to those we undertake in Viet Nam.

The Future of International Programs. When we view these programs retrospectively, we can see a basic paradox. Internationalization and globalization are undeniable phenomena, even if our descriptions and understandings are inadequate and often blinkered by particular ideological and methodological presuppositions. Learned societies, universities, and scholars in many configurations are organizing and reorganizing for new or continuing international work. At the same time, many of the mechanisms developed in the past fifty years to provide for regionally specific area studies are under strain. Federal resources for international study in general, and area studies in particular, will almost certainly continue to diminish. While episodically interested in international policy issues, private foundations are increasingly reluctant to make sustained investments in the academic infrastructure necessary to prepare scholars for global research. In an ACLS-commissioned report, The Forgotten Payoff: Support for International Educational Exchange Among American Private Foundations, Craufurd Goodwin and Michael Nacht describe how reigning professional and programmatic ideals in private foundations make program officers wary of entanglements with international study and exchange programs. There are notable exceptions to this dreary picture, to be sure, but energy and commitment from the ACLS and its constituent societies are essential to countering these trends. We must simultaneously explore the new global, transnational, and comparative approaches to international scholarship while continuing to champion the humanistic aspects of area studies: language, history, philosophy, and culture.


Shortly after I became President, the Ford Foundation asked ACLS to propose activities to mark the bicentennial of the U.S. Constitution, with a serious program taking a global perspective on relations of constitutional processes to state and society. Programs aimed at developing the study of constitutionalism have been part of the international programs of ACLS since then. These programs, including the Comparative Constitutionalism Project (1987 to 1990) and the East European Constitutionalism Project (1992 to 1994), continue the ACLS tradition of developing programs to incubate interdisciplinary fields of study. They also illustrate another important aspect of ACLS program work: bringing humanistic scholarship into fuller engagement with the world beyond the academy.

The Comparative Constitutionalism Project, supported by the Ford Foundation, convened a series of six international institutes over a four-year period. While constitutional law and comparative government are venerable academic subjects, scholarly work on comparative constitutionalism has been relatively thin. The ACLS institutes were comparative across disciples, cultures, regimes, and time. The project did not attempt to produce a global definition of constitutionalism or a generalized theory of constitutional change; instead, its goals were to stimulate the study of comparative constitutionalism and to expand networks of knowledgeable scholars and practitioners committed to collaborating on further inquiry. There have been very encouraging signs that the new scholarly networks that grew out of the project have taken root. Numerous publications resulted, most particularly Constitutionalism and Democracy (Oxford University Press, 1993), which our staff edited. In addition, several of the regional institute host committees reconstituted themselves as freestanding working groups. Melanie Beth Oliviero served with distinction as the program officer in charge of this project.

The penultimate meeting took place, by historic coincidence, in the fall of 1990, just days before the dismantling of the Berlin Wall. It seemed appropriate to shift focus to the newly emerging democracies in the region, which a timely grant from the Pew Charitable Trusts made possible. The ACLS tradition of scholarly excellence, coupled with the commitment of our international programs to local definition, produced a series of conferences in four countries—Poland, Hungary, and the Czech and Slovak Republics—with publications recording the conference discussions on each country's legacy of constitutionalism and its current prospects. We were fortunate to have Irena Grudzinska Gross lead this effort.

This would have made a fitting end to the intellectual project begun with the Ford grant. Yet, in a third phase, the East European Constitutionalism Project organized the establishment of five autonomous centers for the training of high school teachers in new subjects relevant to constitutional democracy and preparation of appropriate curricular material. (Competitions were conducted by in-country commissions drawn from participants of the scholarly conferences; the present teacher-training centers were chosen from among proposals received. Thus, from inception each center has had its own program and organizational structure.) In preparation at press time is a two-year renewal for the Constitutionalism Project focusing on workshops and pilot classrooms for the development of interactive teaching methods and new forms of pupil assessment (portfolios and exhibitions as opposed to standardized testing and grades). This undertaking will involve collaboration with U.S. education researchers.

The Council is also currently engaged in a Social Science Curriculum Development Project at selected universities in East and Central Europe. This program is jointly administered by ACLS and IREX and supported by a grant from the U.S. Information Agency, drawing on funds from the Support for East European Democracies Act. Three university departments (in Warsaw, Budapest, and Cluj, Romania) were selected for intensive development, including faculty exchanges, book and equipment donations, student research scholarships, and collaborative seminars, all directed at introducing empirical methods and improving teaching capacities. We were asked to collaborate in the design and implementation of various program elements because of our experience in international scholarly exchanges, and our interest in the changes underway in the worldwide community of scholarship and research.


I brought to ACLS a concern that we needed to be engaged in questions of education as well as scholarship. Particularly in the fields of humanistic learning, scholarship must closely serve education or be considered to be without relevance. Moreover, our nation is currently in a period of intense scrutiny of our educational system, from pre-kindergarten to graduate school. ACLS had much to contribute to efforts at renewal. In April 1989, we made "Scholars and the Schools" the theme of our Annual Meeting. A year later, we began designing a project that would involve collaborative partnerships between teachers in K-12 schools and faculty in colleges and universities.

In 1992, with grants from the DeWitt Wallace-Reader's Digest Fund, the Pew Charitable Trusts, and an anonymous funder, we embarked on a three-year project whose core idea was to treat "teachers as scholars." In several cities around the country, teachers were designated as teacher-fellows, and given an opportunity to pursue a year's program of professional development. The teacher-fellows formed workshops with two or three university humanities faculty members to explore ideas of mutual interest. Each teacher-fellow also worked with a team of teachers in her/his own school on a curriculum development project. The fruits of these curriculum development projects were disseminated in a variety of ways, including year-end national conferences for all participants. The project, ably managed by Michael Holzman, sought to stimulate the formation of institutions that could sustain the collaborations after the funding from ACLS came to an end. The two most successful continuing efforts are in Boulder and in Boston, and we hope they will be a model for similar efforts in other cities.

Many of the member learned societies of ACLS also have significant activities in education, and we sought to work more closely with them in our education-related activities. In 1996, we were awarded grants by the Pew Charitable Trusts and an anonymous funder to work with our member learned societies on issues in K-12 education and to assist collaborative school/university projects. The Conference of Administrative Officers has also taken a strong interest in education issues. At recent CAO meetings, sessions have been offered on the role of learned societies vis-à-vis national education standards, on preparing future faculty for teaching, and on the evaluation of teaching through peer review procedures.

In 1995, we were awarded a grant by the Freeman Foundation for a teacher exchange between the United States and China. We are currently in the first cycle of this program, in which school districts in the two countries exchange teachers for a year, the Americans teaching English and the Chinese teaching Chinese language and culture and a variety of other subjects. Through this program our education activities intersect beautifully with our long-standing international commitments.

Also in 1995, we were awarded a grant by the MacArthur Foundation for a project on "Innovation and Vitality in Contemporary Liberal Education." The grant allows us to make project grants to relatively under- endowed liberal arts colleges for innovative projects and programs, and also to sponsor conferences calling attention to cutting-edge practices and their relationship to contemporary scholarship

Through these various efforts, we have demonstrated the contemporary relevance of sustaining liberal education and explored the conditions for its continuation. Drawing on our experiences, I have on a number of occasions spoken out forcefully on behalf of liberal education and contributed to national policy discussions about such topics as the transition from schools to college, national education standards, and the clamor for accountability in education.

Scholarly Communication

ACLS has been involved with issues of scholarly communication since we began preparation of the Dictionary of American Biography in 1927.

American National Biography. Even before becoming President, I was aware of the need (first articulated by John William Ward) for a new biographical encyclopedia to succeed the Dictionary of American Biography (DAB). The ACLS began work on the DAB in 1927, with Charles Scribner's Sons as publisher, and the last of the original twenty volumes was published in 1937. Although supplemented since then, by 1987 the DAB was historiographically out of date and in need of substantial revision or substitution. Discussions with several publishers led us to reach an agreement with Oxford University Press (New York) to publish the American National Biography (ANB).

The American National Biography will be a twenty-volume collection of approximately 19,000 biographies of significant individuals in American history. It will be an original work, drawing upon the wealth of research that has immeasurably deepened our knowledge of the American past since ACLS began publishing the DAB more than sixty years ago. The ANB is designed to provide a richer, more representative portrait of American history than the DAB did. It will be available in both print and electronic to make it accessible to the largest possible audience.

A work of this magnitude has inevitably presented considerable difficulties. It attempts to provide a broad and deep representation of historical scholarship and to cover a wide range of subjects. That coverage has made the process of commissioning authors and editing manuscripts extremely labor intensive. Locating properly qualified scholars for many of the minor figures has proved difficult and, overall, more than 15,000 scholars will contribute to the ANB. As the project nears completion, I want to commend our colleagues at Oxford University Press, especially Managing Editor Paul Betz; and the ANB office at Columbia University, brilliantly led by Professors Jack Garraty and Mark Carnes, the General and Deputy General Editors of the ANB, for overcoming these many difficulties.

An unforeseen difficulty in this project was the necessity of legal action to maintain ACLS's rights in the publication of the Dictionary of American Biography. A dispute arose with Macmillan, Inc., publishers of the DAB, over plans to issue an electronic edition of the DAB. ACLS commenced litigation only with the greatest reluctance, and only after all alternative avenues of redress had been exhausted. Even now, Macmillan remains a business partner with ACLS in other ventures, as well as in the continued marketing of the DAB in its present form. Having reached an impasse in these matters, however, ACLS concluded that a lawsuit was the only means to maintaining its rightful control over the DAB and its ability to preserve that work as an irreplaceable—and unaltered—monument to the great historians of the first half of the twentieth century. This lawsuit resulted in a settlement. ACLS believes that the settlement terms preserve the scholarly and historiographic integrity of the DAB by ensuring that the public not be led to believe that the DAB is a contemporary biographical work. The ANB, scheduled to appear in late 1998 in both print and electronic forms, will be such a work.

Other Reference Works. Committees of scholars organized by the ACLS have written and edited several other reference works now in press or in print. The Dictionary of the Middle Ageshas been adapted by the ACLS for use in schools as The Middle Ages: An Encyclopedia for Students. This "Junior DMA" has received admiring reviews and commercial success. The DMA itself and the Dictionary of Scientific Biography continue to be of service to scholars everywhere.

Two other works deserve special mention, and I am especially proud to have been associated with them. The Correspondence of William James, in continuing production at the University of Virginia, has been called by one reviewer, "an awesome labor of love and erudition." Equally impressive is the ongoing The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, edited by my distinguished predecessor as ACLS President, Frederick Burkhardt.

Electronic Scholarly Communication. While ACLS has continued its long-standing role with regard to the preparation of important scholarly reference works, we have also been very active in helping the academy understand the possibilities and the potential perils of digital network technology in transforming scholarly communication. ACLS had an Office of Scholarly Communication and Technology when I arrived, but we had to close it in 1987, after just three years, for lack of funding. Almost certainly it was ahead of its time.

In the fall of 1992, we held a conference on "Technology, Scholarship and the Humanities: The Implications of Electronic Information," in partnership with the Getty Art History Information Program (AHIP), the Coalition for Networked Information (CNI), the Council on Library Resources (CLR), and the Research Libraries Group (RLG). Support for the gathering came from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and the conference proceedings have been widely disseminated and discussed. With Getty AHIP and CNI, again, we began to imagine an ongoing national project to bring together all the not-for-profit institutions concerned with digital networked technology. Together, in 1994, we produced a report on Humanities and Arts on the Information Highway: A National Initiative. We were particularly eager to influence national policy in developing a national information infrastructure.

In 1996, again in partnership with Getty and CNI, and now joined by two dozen other organizations, we created the National Initiative for a Networked Cultural Heritage (NINCH). It is already proving a very valuable organization in bringing together scholarly societies, libraries, archives, museums, colleges and universities, schools, and others concerned with making the Internet and its successors a valuable resource for scholarship and education. David Green, the first Executive Director of NINCH, is doing a splendid job. I also want to pay tribute to the extraordinary and indispensable work of Paul Evan Peters, Executive Director of CNI until his untimely death this past winter.

A parallel line of work has involved fostering conversations among scholars, librarians, and university presses. In the early years of my tenure we had a Research Library Committee, jointly sponsored by the ACLS, the Council on Library Resources, SSRC, and the Association of American Universities. As my term draws to a close, we are launching a new project with the Council on Library and Information Resources to study changes in scholarly processes resulting from new technology; we are also working with the Association of Research Libraries and the Association of American University Presses on a symposium on the future of the monograph.

A third line of activity has involved close work with our member learned societies helping them understand the possibilities of digital networks for their own activities, particularly for the publication of journals. For the past five years, nearly every meeting of the Conference of Administrative Officers has included at least one session focused on some aspect of this question. ACLS has convened an ongoing seminar for our members on these matters. We have learned a great deal from one another, and there is still much to learn.

Finally, we have been very active in discussions of copyright, especially over the past three years. The technology alone will not transform scholarly communication; copyright law and policy will shape how the technology can be used. In a variety of settings—the Conference on Fair Use (CONFU), discussions of domestic legislation, consideration of new international agreements through the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO)—we have worked closely with representatives of academic libraries and scholarly publishers, but ACLS has been virtually alone in representing the concerns of scholars. Much is at stake in these ongoing discussions. Here I want to acknowledge the indispensable national leadership ACLS was able to provide in the person of Vice President Douglas Bennett.

Conference of Administrative Officers (CAO)

The Conference of Administrative Officers (which changed its name in 1989 from the Conference of Secretaries) meets twice a year: in the fall and again in the spring in conjunction with the ACLS Annual Meeting. One focus of CAO discussions concerns the many aspects of running a learned society: holding annual meetings, publishing journals and newsletters, and providing services to members. These discussions continue, facilitated for the past two years by an electronic listserv for the members of the CAO.

One of my first decisions was to increase the attention of ACLS to the CAO and thus to both our constituent societies and the actual activities of scholars in the humanities and social sciences. In recent years we have also tried to foster attention within the CAO to larger issues affecting humanistic scholarship and education, and to coordinate some aspects of the program work of the Council more closely with the activities of its member learned societies. In 1989 we held a retreat for the CAO focused on the current and changing situation of learned societies and the disciplines they represent. We held a second retreat in November 1994, with support from the Mellon Foundation, on "The Internationalization of Scholarship and Scholarly Societies." Over the years, Christina Gillis, Nina K. Cobb, Janet Greenberg, Julie Sissman, and Jennie Raab lent their strengths to the work of the CAO. Coordination of the Council's work with the CAO is now the responsibility of the Vice President, who draws on the expertise of our program officers when appropriate. Four topics or threads now shape the program activities of the CAO: internationalization of scholarship, electronic scholarly communication, education, and issues around the education and professional development of new scholars ("pipeline" questions).

ACLS Publications

The ACLS publications program was re-energized and expanded in 1987 with the redesign of the Newsletter and the introduction of the Occasional Paper series. The "new" Newsletter featured a mix of news on ACLS activities and brief essays. More recent issues of the Newsletter have focused on a single area of interest: the February 1997 issue, for example, was devoted to Internet-accessible scholarly resources. Thirty-five titles have been published in the Occasional Paper series so far. The series serves as a vehicle for the dissemination of the annual Charles Homer Haskins Lecture, Annual Meeting presentations, final reports of ACLS projects, and other substantive essays, and it has been very well received. Notable Occasional Papers include The Improvement of Teaching by Derek Bok; Speaking for the Humanities by George Levine et al.; Fellowships in the Humanities, 1983-1991 by Douglas Greenberg; The Limits of Expression in American Intellectual Life by Kathryn Abrams, W.B. Carnochan, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and Robert M. O'Neil; and the annual Haskins Lectures. The first ten Haskins Lectures were also published by Oxford University Press in a volume entitled A Life of Learning, which Douglas Greenberg, Candace Frede, and I edited.

In conjunction with the design of the "new" Newsletter and Occasional Paper series, in 1986 we adopted a new logo and design for all ACLS printed matter, a scheme later carried forward to our web site.

I was very pleased to present the ACLS web site at the 1996 Annual Meeting. The site provides the organization a presence on line: it offers frequent "EXTRA!" bulletins on the latest ACLS news; timely information on our fellowship and grant competitions; "hot links" to our constituent societies, affiliates, and associates, as well as other scholarly resources; and online versions of ACLS publications. Designed and maintained in house, the site is evolving to better serve our interests and those of our users. Candace Frede, Director of Publications, deserves special mention for her efforts in creating and maintaining the web site.

ACLS as an Organization

As an organization, ACLS has grown and changed over the past eleven years. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, membership in ACLS grew very slowly. The guidelines for membership were interpreted to be exclusive rather than inclusive, particularly with respect to overlapping membership and field definition. Potential constituent societies were deemed not eligible if a large percentage of their membership was included in an existing member society, or if their area of scholarly concern did not represent a defined degree-granting discipline. For the period 1976-85, just four new societies were admitted to the ACLS. In practice this excluded many learned societies in interdisciplinary and other emerging fields.

Early in my Presidency I asked for a review of our admissions policy. At the 1990 Annual Meeting, the policy statement on Admission of New Constituent Societies was modified to open the door to membership for these new or otherwise neglected societies in important fields of the humanities and social sciences. From 1986 to 1997, sixteen societies were admitted to the ACLS. Among those admitted were a number of area studies organizations, including the African Studies Association, the Association for the Advancement of Baltic Studies, the Latin American Studies Association, and the Middle East Studies Association.

We have made continuous efforts over the past eleven years to increase the substantive role of the Delegates in the activities of the Council, a process initiated by Bill Ward. I have encouraged the appointment of Delegates as both panelists and prescreeners for the Fellowship Program. The Executive Committee, which also serves as the Committee on Admissions, develops the Annual Meeting program, and a session at the Annual Meeting is devoted to the Delegates' views on important intellectual and scholarly issues.

I also sought implementation of a new membership category, Affiliates, which was approved by the ACLS Board in 1991. There are many organizations and institutions whose goals and purposes are so closely linked to those of ACLS that a formal connection is desirable for both parties. Currently there are ten such Affiliate members: the Association of Research Libraries, the Camargo Foundation, the Center for Research Libraries, the Community College Humanities Association, the Federation of State Humanities Councils, the International Society for Third Sector Research, the National Coalition of Independent Scholars, Phi Beta Kappa, Phi Theta Kappa, and the Research Libraries Group. Affiliate membership offers these organizations the benefits of participating in the activities of the Conference of Administrative Officers, an open door to shared projects, ongoing contact with the ACLS staff on matters of interest to the scholarly community, and continuing involvement in the crucial network of contacts with whom ACLS works on a daily basis.

The support of the colleges and universities which are ACLS Associates represents both significant annual funding and, equally important, symbolic national support of the work of the ACLS from a diverse group of institutions of higher education. This category of membership was created in 1969 by Frederick Burkhardt. Although it requires diligent ongoing effort to maintain this support, in 1996-97 there are 177 Associate members. A dues increase for Associates in 1989-90 increased our annual income by almost $100,000, and the number of Associates has increased slowly but steadily since that time. My Executive Assistant, Barbara Henning, deserves special recognition for making this happen.

One last, recent organizational change of import: in 1994 the Council approved a significant revision of the ACLS Constitution and By-laws, updating and clarifying many of their provisions.

I have been fortunate to work with three distinguished and attentive Board Chairs—Georges May, Neil Harris, and Francis Oakley—and two Vice Chairs, Nina Garsoian and Patricia Meyer Spacks. For most of the years I have been President, William Jordan and Arnold Thackray served, respectively, as Secretary and Treasurer. Marshall Cohen and James Millar recently succeeded them. I am grateful to them and to the other dedicated scholars who have served on the ACLS Board during these years.

I have been fortunate, as well, to work with a wonderful staff. Barbara Henning has served superbly as my Executive Assistant, carrying an unbelievably heavy load and serving as the institutional memory of ACLS. Jason Parker and his assistant, Louise Medby, have long been conscientious stewards of the Council's China and Eastern European programs. Ruth Waters, Director of Fellowships, has made our fellowship programs a model of integrity and efficiency. These four greeted my arrival at ACLS and will continue after I depart. Hugh O'Neill served devotedly as Director of Finance from 1984 until this past September; his successor is Jacqueline Kuhls. Douglas Greenberg and Steven Wheatley came to ACLS at the same time that I did. Doug's tremendous energy and intelligence served ACLS in a variety of areas, from constitutionalism to fellowships to scholarly publishing, until he departed to become President of the Chicago Historical Society in 1992. Steve Wheatley continues at the Council, handling an extraordinary array of difficult assignments, including leading our effort in restructuring the joint international programs with SSRC, directing our activities in Vietnam, and overseeing work on the American National Biography. ACLS would not be where it now is without Doug and Steve. Others directing programs at present include Andrzej Tymowski (Constitutionalism), Maureen Grolnick (Education), and Margot Landman (U.S.-China Teachers Exchange). Candace Frede has directed ACLS publications since 1987, deftly broadening her competence to include our web site and electronic publications as well as our traditional print titles. Eileen Dettmer, our Office Manager, has faithfully kept our day-to-day operations running smoothly. Susan Dickerson, my Administrative Assistant, has been essential to my work as President. I want to thank all the other members of the staff for their good work on my behalf: Michael Cortez, Evangelos Gregoriou, Harold Howard, Colette Kunkel, Servio Moreno, Christine Pedersen, Jennie Raab, Sandra Sciford, and Karen Watt. Douglas Bennett has served superbly as Vice President since 1994, particularly in guiding our efforts in information technology and intellectual property; he will depart this summer to become President of Earlham College.

Our offices have been on the sixteenth floor of 228 East 45th Street since 1983, three years before I arrived. We recently signed, at much more favorable terms, a new lease that keeps us at this convenient location for several more years. While the organization now undertakes a wider variety of program activities, the staff has not grown appreciably: in 1986 the staff numbered eighteen, in 1997 we number twenty-one. Much has changed, however, in how the staff works together. There were only two personal computers at ACLS when I arrived in July 1986. A computer network now allows us to share materials more easily; and a linked set of databases allow us to coordinate the collection, maintenance, and flow of information. We desktop publish most of our publications. We are now changing our approach to finance and accounting towards program budgeting, and strengthening our ability to do financial planning.

Advocacy for Humanistic Scholarship
and Education

The ACLS is in many ways a unique organization. Our constituent societies represent the majority of the most important U.S. academic professional associations in the humanities and social sciences, and we have always worked to support those organizations and their intellectual and professional goals. Unlike the humanities academies of so many other countries, we are not an elective organization. We are a representative organization: representative of both the constituent societies and of the larger humanities and social science intellectual community in this country.

We also, crucially, represent the views and needs of these communities to the rest of the world through the UAI, the new Academies Group (the humanities academies of the English-speaking countries), our exchange and scholarly projects, our international collaboration with SSRC, and our offices in Beijing and Hanoi. At a time when the speed and ease of communications has expanded exponentially, the mission of the ACLS can be envisioned only in global terms. So our responsibilities continue to grow.

The imperatives of representing the scholarly community have meant that ACLS must take a role in the public arena on many issues of substance. For example:

  • the importance of peer-review in federal grantmaking;
  • the importance of academic freedom in universities and in public and private academic programs;
  • the necessity of scholarly access to information;
  • the importance of scholarship to our national and cultural life; and
  • the ideal that knowledge and scholarship are not bounded by political and cultural borders and that they are inherently transnational.

Over the years during which I have been President, ACLS has directed much of its energy to advocating the ideas and institutions to which it has always been devoted. We were among the founders of the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), and much of my time as President has been devoted to support and defense of this crucial institution. It has not been easy. It is not yet clear that even a much reduced NEH will survive, though I believe it will. Our advocacy would not have been effective if we had not allied ourselves with our peers in the National Humanities Alliance (NHA). And even then we would not have succeeded without the tireless efforts and brilliant field-generalship of John Hammer, Director of NHA. Similarly, we could not have accomplished our own goals without the support of Jamil Zainaldin and the Federation of State Humanities Councils. The same is true of the efforts of the Alliance for International Educational and Cultural Exchange in our championing of the Senior (faculty) Fulbright Program, and of our work with the National Cultural Alliance in improving the image of the arts and humanities. Our new relationship to NINCH is central to the development of user-friendly public policies with respect to networked cultural heritage information. The list of our collaborators is very long, and our associations with all of them gratifying.

As many readers of this report will know, these have not always been easy years. National politics have too often intruded into our work, though of course that is the price of living in a democracy. Civility has not always characterized our relations with the government and its officials. From my point of view, the culture wars were not productive, and they were certainly not fun.

Still, I will always feel grateful to the Board of Directors for selecting me in January of 1986 to take on the responsibility for ACLS. It has allowed me to grow intellectually, to work with an extraordinary range of people around the world, and to assist our Board and societies in thinking through the challenges and opportunities of research, teaching, and the propagation of the humanities as we approach the end of the millennium. It has been a wild ride, and I have enjoyed almost all of it.

This report was presented to the Board of Directors of the American Council of Learned Societies at the ACLS Annual Meeting in May 1997.

Back to Top