News and Events

Chair’s Response to Distinguished Scholars Selection Process

Dear Colleagues,

The top article of Inside Higher Education today is “When White Scholars Pick White Scholars” (see also CRTNET, June 12, 2019, Number 17193).

In terms of the main points, the article and recent posts are right—the Distinguished Scholars (DSs) are mostly white, the nomination process is open to everyone, and the DSs select new DSs. Zarefsky’s letter pointed out the frustrations that the DSs felt in not being consulted. I signed that petition. In contrast, Medhurst acted on his own in crafting and publicizing his views.

There is no doubt that the system needs to change. The DSs have argued that they can’t elect someone who hasn’t been nominated. That’s true but it’s more complicated than that. The nomination process is very simple—basically a CV and a one page nomination written by anyone including self-nominations with no identifiers as to who generated the nomination. There are no letters of support needed. The DSs themselves made this change a few years ago to encourage more nominations. The problems with the system are (a) that few seek nominations—this happens with awards across associations—and (b) that the winnowing procedures produce such a small number of winners. There need to be committees who actively seek and construct nominations and there need to be other changes to produce higher numbers elected. For example, in ICA the Fellows changed the requirements to requiring a simple majority of positive votes. The result is more women, international scholars, and scholars of color.

It’s well beyond the time when we should have been having this conversation about the DSs. Our department is well versed in politics of difference. Many of us have worked toward inclusivity over the course of our careers and I am proud to be in a department where I have colleagues, including our students, staff, and advisors, who work on these and other significant concerns. That doesn’t mean that we get everything right all the time. Having been on the NCA Task Force for Inclusivity for several years in which we gathered data and encouraged structural and other changes to transform the face of our association to reflect current and future membership, changes in the DS and other procedures are incontrovertibly necessary.

Please note that these are my own views. I am neither speaking for the other DSs nor am I speaking officially on behalf of our department.

Take care,PMB Signature