Roundtable Challenges Facing History Departments in the Twenty-First Century: Perspectives from Department Chairs

AHA Session 1
Thursday, January 3, 2013: 1:00 PM-3:00 PM
Bayside Ballroom A (Sheraton New Orleans)
Christy Jo Snider, Berry College
Tracy Neal Leavelle, Creighton University
Robbie Lieberman, Southern Illinois University Carbondale
Matthew Loayza, Minnesota State University Mankato
Suzanne Pasztor, California State University, Humboldt
Christy Jo Snider, Berry College

Session Abstract

State funding cuts, calls for accountability by the public, and the portrayal of higher education as a ‘failure’ have left history departments facing numerous challenges.  Faculty workload is on the rise as tenure-track lines are being eroded by demands to increase class size or through the hiring of adjuncts, which intensifies the service and advising expectations of the rest of the faculty.  Government officials, administrators, and parents are continually asking history departments to justify what they do in terms of providing a practical educational experience for their students.  The standard repertoire of answers – that history teaches critical thinking skills, enhances communication abilities, and encourages students to become engaged citizens – is unsatisfying to those who really want to know how history trains students for a specific career and it fails to address what is distinctive about studying history.  Meanwhile, administrative mandates for active learning in the classroom, increased student engagement, and use of assessable learning outcomes raise concerns about academic freedom and the proper balance between history as a content discipline and one that teaches transferable skills.  There are also disciplinary pressures both in terms of producing scholarship in the age of the vanishing university press monograph and in relation to graduate education programs being asked to train their students not only to become professors, but for a wide variety of potential professions. 

Our roundtable addresses many of these issues by briefly discussing some of the recent challenges and responses our individual departments have faced.  Dr. Tracy Leavelle, Department Chair at Creighton University, will discuss history education in the 21st century curriculum and examine the value of history and the humanities in the current climate that stresses “pragmatic" educational experiences.  Dr. Robbie Lieberman, Department Chair at Southern Illinois University, will speak about how the recent faculty strike at Southern Illinois raised issues about the role of department chairs, the tenure system, and academic freedom.  Dr. Matthew Loayza, Department Chair at Minnesota State University, Mankato, will discuss workload issues including pressures to increase enrollments, as well as the struggle to explain history as a discipline to faculty members in other departments.  Dr. Suzanne Pasztor, Department Chair at California State University-Humboldt, will discuss how cutbacks in History faculty at her institution have led to the increasing size of history survey courses and pressures to deal with rising enrollments through the use of technology.  She will also review how larger survey sections have caused the department to struggle to meet other campus objectives. Dr. Christy Snider, Department Chair at Berry College, will focus on how the history department at Berry College developed an assessment plan for a recent accreditation review, its preparation for an external evaluation, and how it is cooperating with a general education task force to write learning outcomes for history courses.

We will then open up discussion with the audience to share comments, questions, and ideas about how history departments might confront and address these issues.

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