Just to point out the obvious, when a letter like this one, distributed to the members of the Medieval Academy Friday, is disseminated so quickly after the annual meeting (where the elected officers convene to discuss governance), then its language of "sad" report and directors "tendering their resignations" for a "sudden regrettable departure" is not to be taken at face value. Here is the letter from President Richard Unger to the members of the Medieval Academy in full:
Sadly I must report that Eileen Gardiner and Ron Musto have tendered their resignation as Executive Director of the Medieval Academy, effective Friday, 19 April. Their sudden departure is regrettable but I am sure all of members of the Academy join me in wishing both of them the best of luck in the future. The three presidential officers jointly and with the support of the Executive Committee and the Council are working to ease the transition to new personnel in the office in Cambridge, MA. Any delays in actions of or responses from the office should be temporary and patience in coming days will be appreciated.
Richard W. Unger
President, Medieval Academy of America
I am disappointed by this communication, which strikes me as carefully worded administrative speech that withholds a truth rather than conveys one. Eileen Gardiner and Ron Musto were bringing to Medieval Academy much needed changes, especially in the wake of the Arizona fiasco. They were in fact making the Academy an organization to which I wanted to belong. I have been a member of the MAA since I was a graduate student, resigned after the Arizona decision, rejoined after the appointment of Gardiner and Musto, and now find I may be regretting the vote of confidence I gave to a group that is supposed to represent me but keeps acting in ways that fail. I do not want to receive disingenuous letters like the one I just got; I want the truth of why such a vast change unfolded so quickly, without the wide consultation of the membership into what must be issues at the core of the MAA's identity.
I wish our elected officials had communicated more openly with those they are supposed to represent before and after precipitating what appears to be (from my vantage at least) either a sudden purge or a blunt refusal to work further with the changes being enacted by the current executive directors. I hope that I am completely wrong. I invite Richard W. Unger or any other member of the governance structure of the MAA to clarify the situation behind the dismissal of Gardiner and Musto. As a member of the MAA, I would like to know why this action was taken so swiftly and what the actual context for the release of the Executive Directors from their office might have been.
(Apologies to anyone whose comment was swallowed when we had Google+ commenting on. We've switched back.)
Did you send this to Richard Unger and the rest of the leadership directly?
hear, hear. I completely agree.
You know, I so much regretted not going to Medieval Academy this year that I had decided to rejoin. Now, I'm not so sure.
I had quite the same reaction. I also dropped my membership after the AZ mess, and only rejoined after a conversation I had with Eileen at the Activism and the Academy session at Kalamazoo, last year. Now, I am sorry to have rejoined, and am thinking about asking for my money back.
This is the the letter I have sent to President Unger, Matt:
Dear President Richard Unger,
I am writing as a member of the Medieval Academy to request clarification of the context, process and timing of the letter sent yesterday to the Academy membership informing us of the resignation of Eileen Gardiner and Ron Musto as Executive Director.
I have been a member of the MAA since my graduate student days. I resigned when the annual meeting was held in Arizona over the protests of numerous members, then rejoined because of the hiring of Gardiner and Musto. Their agenda for change struck me as exactly what was needed. I am dismayed to hear of their sudden resignation, one that certainly has a fuller story behind it, coming so quickly after the the annual meeting. I would like to know as well why the membership as a whole has not been consulted as part of the process or deliberations that culminated in these resignations. I take this as a sign that the Executive Directors could not work with the president and executive committee to achieve common goals. The membership deserves to know more about those goals and the decisions that made working together impossible.
I would also point out that sending the letter on a day when Boston and Cambridge were in lockdown and many of us were worried about our friends and families was a poor choice.
I know I am not alone in wondering what is behind this sudden change in Academy leadership. I rejoined the MAA as a vote of confidence in its future. Friday's terse and poorly timed letter has eroded that confidence, and so I look forward to hearing a fuller story.
I still hadn't joined, but had been considering it. I really want to know what's going on. The Executive Committee has changed and I want to know if they are going to give us any reassurances of change that we had hoped for with the new Executive Directors.
Did it occur to anyone that the reasons behind such a resignation may have nothing to do with the organization or the personnel of the organization? Come on folks, until you know more information, I can think of many reasons why they may have resigned and may not want to share the details with the likes of us that have nothing to do with the organization.
Further, you assume a process, assume the by-laws require wider discussions of the membership, and then while criticizing them for lack of transparency turn around and criticize them for informing us as quickly as possible, a rather hypocritical move.
It is good to ask for further information and clarification. Beyond that, the accusatory assumptions are based on nothing more air at this point, hot air at that. How about before we pass judgement, we work to find out what happened unless, quite frankly, it might be none of our business (personal issues, for example). That seems to me to be the professional approach, the intelligent and scholarly approach...else we become simply the MAA's version of Rush Limbaugh.
I agree in principle with what theswain says, if only because there are lots of cases where administrators and boards are legally prevented from revealing details -- unless there are criminal proceedings. Sadly, I cannot agree in this particular case. Whatever the reasons behind the resignations, this is another example of incredibly poor communication skills at the very top. I mean that not only regarding the phrasing and lack of information conveyed in the letter, but also in regards to what appears to be an amazing level of cluelessness about how members and ex-members might take such a letter.
Whatever the reason for the resignations, the letter has much of the same clumsy, yet patronizing, tone that the "we aren't a political organization, we don't think it's a big deal, and it doesn't matter how many members protest, we're going to AZ" letter had. Scholarly organization. Members supposedly colleagues. Supposed to represent the members at different stages in their careers. Maybe even have something to do with the current state of the profession and its members' ideas where the organization should be heading.
The language of the letter simply does not reflect or acknowledge that any of those things exist as parts of the relationship between the exec and the members.
I'm with anotherdamnedmedievalist here and not with theswain (sorry Larry). If the resignation were due to personal circumstances I would expect it to be mentioned in the letter (even if not, I mean how many politicians resign to "spend more time with his/her family") That no reason *at all* is given, combined with the timing, just screams "forced out" to me. Eileen and Ron were taking the MAA in some new directions, badly needed in my opinion; their resignation is our loss.
Is there any evidence at this time of Cohen's charge of "dismissal"? None.
Patronizing tone? I'm usually oversensitive to patronizing tone; I enjoy putting such patronizers in their place as a form of entertainment. Unger's letter contains 4 sentences: the first reports the resignation, the second expresses regret and extends best wishes, the third that they are working on the transition, and the fourth requesting our patience. I fail to see any vocabulary or tone that patronizes. If anything it strikes as an attempt to be as succinct, direct, and emotionless as possible seeking to inform, request, and regret.
It isn't for Unger to say if Eileen and Ron left for personal reasons. In every case I know of where someone has left, they issue their own statement if they issue one at all. But my point remains: how anyone can call themselves a scholar and a professional and be against ascertaining facts before drawing conclusions is beyond me. Conclusions drawn from a priori assumptions are still fallacious. Let's get some facts, people.
First, despite Larry's invidious comparison to Rush Limbaugh, I stand by every word I have written in this post, in the comments, and on FB. I continue to demand clarification and context for the sudden resignation of Eileen and Ron and for the timing of the announcement. I seek to undertand why their agenda for change culminated in resignation. I want better from the MAA.
Second, for those of you who do not belong to the FB "Middle English" discussion group, this comment from David Wallace (posted yesterday) may help to illuminate some small amount of background. More coming soon.
David Wallace: "I wrote to Elaine and Ron expressing my admiration for the new tone they had set, and sadness at their departure. Elaine wrote back: 'Unfortunately disagreements with the elected officers over the role and status of the Executive Director and Editor of Speculum made it impossible to continue on our agenda for change.'"
Larry, I should clarify what I meant by patronizing. First, 'dismissive' might have been a better choice. The thing is that, in my mind, if a colleague writes something that is dismissive in the way that Unger's note was, i.e., "you don't need/I am not obliged to give any explanation", I find it patronizing. I firmly believe that people at the top of an organization need to take, and be willing to take, decisions. I agree that sometimes those decisions can be good decisions even if they are made by elected officers against the opinion of the membership. Sometimes the membership cannot know, or shouldn't be bothered with, all of the minutiae related to a decision.
I've been in the president's chair (obviously not of the MAA, but scholarly organizations do have lots in common with each other). I've been in the president's chair when an elected council was frequently frustrated with the direction taken by an ED, and when there has been dissatisfaction with the elected officers amongst part of the membership. It's fairly common for some people in that position to circle the wagons, thinking it shows stability and strength. That seems to be what Unger is doing.
(end of part 1)
part 2 (and apologies) I just happen to think that there is a better alternative. That alternative is to communicate more detail to the membership, trusting them to use the information thoughtfully.
The issues bothering me here are as follows (and may not be entirely complete:
*my impression has always been that the EDs were brought in in part to resolve some of the underlying issues contributed to, and resulted from, the Arizona meeting conflict. That being the case, it seems to me that they were at least in part there to represent the interests and concerns of a large number of members, some of whom MAA needed to woo back.
*one of the underlying issues seemed to me to be a sort of tension caused by differing interpretations of the role played by academics in society at large. To some extent this is generational, but it's not just that -- I think it's more related to experience and privilege (a LOT of it unrecognized privilege). At present, the elected officials seem to come largely from, if you will, those with greater privilege in academia. In some ways, it's a senior faculty/junior faculty analog. Actually, that might be the whole thing: senior faculty at top-notch institutions and/or who became senior faculty before such huge budget cuts, adjunctification, etc.
*Although the elected officials are not meant to be representatives, per se, I see their jobs as a combination of caretakers and drivers. In other words, I want them to do everything they can to maintain integrity and standards and even to some extent the character of the organization, to keep that organization recognizable as itself, and to promote some sort of long-term vision. HOWEVER, IMO, that does not simply mean deciding that the organization is X, and therefor must remain X, otherwise it won't be the organization. The vision should be one that allows for organic change and evolution. That means listening to the concerns of members, especially those members who are also (in the case of MAA) senior faculty who are respected in their fields, i.e., people who also have a vested interest in the continuity of the organization.
*and now that I'm back to MAA specifically, I might as well say it: MAA is still something of an 800-lb gatekeeping gorilla. Speculum is a large part of it, but so is all of the network(ing) surrounding the journal and the people at the top of MAA. There are significant career advantages to publishing in Speculum and presenting at MAA, such that not being a member can even be a disadvantage. Simply put, we are still at a point where scholars need the MAA more than it needs scholars. I think that is changing, but my impression since AZ is that there is a strong old guard that believes this to be true, and so acts accordingly: "we just have to stand our ground, and they'll come back." It's an oppositional mindset that cannot be healthy for the profession.
Shorter version: Been there, done that, know from experience on both sides of the fence that there are good alternatives to the crap way MAA officials have communicated with members since at least AZ -- and that better communication of even unpopular decisions would have been possible and less divisive. Moreover, I am fairly convinced that the poor communication (and here I mean listening to members; considering how to also represent a membership whose circumstances, backgrounds, and understanding of the profession may be different, but equally valid; and providing information to the membership in a transparent and timely manner) is primarily a result of unacknowledged power and privilege. And frankly, there are few things that piss me off more than that.
David Perry's public FB post and the comments upon are worth reading.
Invidious? It wasn't meant to be so. It was rather a call to get facts first, beat the drums of war second, rather than the other way round. The former is what professionals do. The latter is what Limbaugh and his ilk do. If you did the former, there's no problem. If you did the latter, well, the comparison is no longer invidious if it's true. Besides, it wasn't a comparison but a warning more than hinted at in the vocabulary.
Now we've heard third hand a hint at one side of the debate, a debate that should be open to the wider membership about the future of the MAA, but not a debate to be had between two parties talking past each other each knowing what is best.
ADM, thanks for the clarifications. I agree with much of what you've said; As anyone who really knows me, as you do, knows I am not one from privilege and I have similar problems with Speculum as gatekeeper (along with TMR, and others) and similarly been involved in organizations etc etc. Still, we don't know a lot, and what little we know comes indirectly, and quite frankly we need to know more. Kicking at the base of the sky scraper will not bring it down.
The organization will change. They all do. How quickly and how much is what is up for grabs right now. But screaming voices are unlikely to be acknowledged by those currently in control; more reasoned voices are more likely to be heard. Unless of course a sizable majority of the membership is at your back....but my impression is that this isn't true. A sizable minority perhaps; and in that case other strategies are needed. We need people like you, me, Dot, Rick, Matthew to get into offices, for example. But most of all, we need facts, less accusation, more context, else this will be just a blip in the history of the organization.
I disagree with your characterization of my post as well as my approach to this situation, Larry. I also think you do not take responsibility for your own rhetoric. But, that is your choice, of course.
Larry, exactly -- we don't know enough and we need to know more.
I'm pretty sure that we all agree on that.
I also agree that knee-jerk negative reactions and screaming are counterproductive.
However, I disagree with your characterizing Jeff's (and other, similar?) response that way.
I suggest an alternative read:
A respected senior (in terms of rank) academic responds publicly to a terse and opaque note from the president of a professional organization to which he belongs. The academic has plenty of administrative experience, he's well-connected and keeps up with news in the profession and in the world at large. He looks at the evidence, and feels confident to draw some quick conclusions.
(I know your objection is that there is no evidence, but hear me out)
We're medievalists, and most of us are pretty good at interpreting texts. Some of us are like ... the rocket scientists of textual interpretation. (Actually, if you're a certain Late Antique scholar, you actually ARE a rocket scientist, but that's another story). Anyway, we recognize certain rhetorical tools when we see them. We recognize coded language. We put the texts into context, and we try to figure out that they mean.
This is the evidence I see, interpreted through training and experience:
*A letter from the president of an organization announcing, out of the blue, the resignation of the ED. No explanation is offered, just the usual boilerplate regrets and good wishes.
*The resignation and letter appeared immediately after the organization's annual meeting and most important business meeting.
*Resignations tendered by people leaving their positions on good terms, and completely of their own volition, are not usually effective immediately.
*Announcements of such resignations generally include details about the organization's plans for filling the positions, as well as the plans of the person who is leaving
*In cases of termination, the language of the announcement differs significantly, whether it's to mention cause or to assert some sort of "mutual agreement that the working relationship can go no further" situation
Perhaps I am a bit more attentive to such things because I'm used to reading charters and formulae, but I honestly have a hard time believing that the President of the MAA would send out such an important announcement without crafting it carefully. At the very least, it seems unlikely that he'd be unaware of the messages conveyed by the phrasing he used.
Is there still missing information? yes.
Would that information make a huge difference to the conclusion that the ED(s) left the organization because of some sort of conflict between them and enough of the board and officers that came to a head at, or immediately following, the annual meeting? Probably not.
I cannot and would not conclude any sort of unprofessional or unethical behavior by the MAA, based on the little I know. Moreover, I don't think anyone has made any such accusations.
But I disagree with you on whether any conclusions at all can be drawn at this point. There's plenty of factual evidence to suggest that there has been some sort of conflict, and that the MAA's handling of it has been clumsy at best.
Larry, invoking Rush Limbaugh not once, but twice, is absolutely invidious. Personally, I've never taken you for the gormless sort that would make that sort of mistake--to be fair to you, therefore, I must conclude that despite your (entirely unsuccessful) attempt to characterize your posts as a wholly innocent call for moderation, you chose your words here as carefully as ever.
Whatever good points you may have intended to present were completely overshadowed by the cheap brand of rhetoric you were serving with them.
ADM has already said much of what I'd otherwise thought to comment, and stated with more clarity than I would have, so I'll leave it at that.
Jeffrey, I am sorry, but not surprised, that you feel that way. And I'm sure you'll not be surprised, though whether sorry or not I don't know, that I disagree with your comments regarding me and my comments. But as for the charge of not taking responsibility for my rhetoric, well, I'll avoid the inflammatory path and just say that you should know better: I took responsibility for my rhetoric when my neck was stuck out on your behalf, what makes you think I don't take such responsibility now that I'm disagreeing with you? As a teacher of rhetoric, I craft what I say carefully, and in a context such as this, I expect careful readers. But what if we focused on what we agree about? We both want an explanation and transparency from all concerned, at least so I hope. What if we concentrate our efforts there? I'll stop defending myself now.
ADM, I do take your point, so now it's my turn. Now let's be honest and clear: much of what you say about Jeffrey in your paragraph I've said about him too, including the last time that I know of that he was publicly criticized by Paul Halsall on FB...that and a good deal more in his favor. I'm not anti-Jeffrey nor do I dislike him or disrespect him. I disagree on his approach to this issue while recognizing that we both have the same end in view (which is also illustrative of the recent resignations at MAA and the board). I cannot say that such has been reciprocated. And while I'm still new as a faculty member, I'm the same age, give a year or two as Jeffrey and spent my early days in middle management at public libraries and then as head of an IT dept in academia before returning to get a PhD. This isn't my first, or even tenth rodeo. Nor am I a stranger to literary interpretation, so let's begin there.
I think the first issue in your interpretation of Unger's letter is that you freely insert your "experience and interpretation" into the evidence. For example, "Announcements of such resignations generally include details about the organization's plans for filling the positions, as well as the plans of the person who is leaving" which isn't at all true, and in this case would entirely depend on Unger and the other MAA governing members to be expecting the resignation--ah, but at this moment there is no such evidence of that. Let's remember...too oft forgot already in these discussions...that Eileen and Marco resigned. If the resignation is as precipitous as Unger's email indicates, then they would have had no time to formulate any kind of plan (unless of course the Constitution already provides such a path, I haven't read the MAA constitution and by-laws and that would be the first place I'd check on these matters). So you see my problem? Eisegesis on too few facts warps our understanding of the text. Further, until Eileen's equally terse message now passed on third hand, the resignations need not have been caused by some conflict, but rather by personal health issues, legal difficulties, etc etc. One needn't automatically jump to a conflictual issue of such magnitude; in this case, that appears to be the case at least on one side.
So now, we have two texts from Jeffrey to go over and let's see if my comments are warranted. First, Jeffrey posted on the blog and made the following comments:
*I am disappointed....carefully worded administrative speak* This sets Jeffrey up as arbiter and judge...he's disappointed? So? Who's he? Unger isn't a senior scholar equally worthy of respect? The other people on the governing council? Apparently not. And calling Unger's short email "administrative speak" automatically and immediately sets up a) an adversarial relationship and b) dismisses it. Certainly Jeffrey's prerogative, but make no mistake what it does do.
*withholds a truth rather than conveys one* accuses Unger and Co. of lying and a cover up.
*bringing to Medieval Academy much needed changes* Well, that too is adversarial and certainly isn't agreed to by everyone in the MAA. As much as some about here agree, MAA...wait for it...is more than just Jeffrey Cohen and readers of ITM. So it's Jeffrey's way or no way.
*I gave to a group that is supposed to represent me but keeps acting in ways that fail.*
This too is inflammatory language. I know, I've used similar in light of m frustration with decisions by the MLA recently. Doesn't Jeffrey know that he isn't the only medievalist around? Whether we agree with the direction of the academy or not (and let me go on record that I disagree with a great deal...I'd like to see as next Executive Director a medievalist who has been working as an adjunct for 20 years or in an inner city community college, frankly), the elected officials do represent a huge swath of the academy even if not everyone. It is my impression, sadly, that those of us pushing for change are a minority. So we can vote in the elections, get involved, or vote with our dollars and leave.
Jeffrey next calls Unger's email "disingenuous". Inflammatory and accusatory a word if there ever were one. Is it deserved? I don' think so. The email told us nothing but essentials. There's more to the story, certainly, but that doesn't make the email disingenuous.
Next Jeffrey asks why such a change happened without consultation with the membership. But surely Unger is the wrong person to ask: if Eileen and Marco are the ones who resigned, yes, resigned, not were fired...which I don't think the MAA Constitution allows anyway. So why ask Unger why the decision was made without consulting the membership? It wasn't his decision! Why hasn't such a question been addressed with equal acerbity to Eileen and Marco? I'll tell you why: because behind Jeffrey's post is an assumption of calumny, nefarious actions, etc. Seems to me that it is to the resigners that the question of why the membership was not consulted (or used to bolster their program of change)or addressed.
It's getting late, I don't have time to finish. So being quick, Jeffrey's post next accuses Unger of precipitating the resignations....that is, they are his fault or the fault of the governing board. We don't know that. And of course that would only be one side of the question even if Eileen and Marco are as up front about things as Jeffrey wants Unger to be. Next Jeffrey accuses Unger caused the situation, engaged a sudden purge or just refused to work with Eileen and Marco...because of course Eileen and Marco are saints and Unger, Jordan and Newman are devils incarnate. Next he accuses Unger and Co of dismissing the executive directors, no evidence of that....so in short, Jeffrey's blog post is a deliberately inflammatory, accusatory, insulting, patronizing piece of prose placing all responsibility on Unger, and at the outset completely exonerates the other parties. Now, Jeffrey has institutional experience, and so do you, and so do I: and in my experience on the few occasions things came to such a head between groups that it was far from one sided and that one side and one side only was at fault. Jeffrey's blog post leaves no room for anything other than blame Unger.
Now admittedly Jeffrey's email to Unger is less inflammatory, degregading, and accusatory than his blog post, but it too leaves little doubt where the onus of blame lay: on Unger and the governing council, implicitly exonerating the other side.
So this is the way we want to get at the truth? By blaming one side utterly, accusing them of engineering a "purge", of dismisisng, rejecting, obfuscating? Well maybe you all know the people involved better than I or the politics of this particular organization better than I, but on the evidence we have all I see is a conflict, and conflict always means plenty of blame to go around.
This will be my last word here. The regular work week begins in a few short hours and I will be busy being chair, adviser, teacher, and all the other things we do. I'd like to end by skipping Lisa's comments and focusing on what we all want: an explanation from all sides involved and a discussion of where the organization should and could go. Last time I posted disagreeing strongly with Eileen and Jeffrey there were over a hundred posts about how wrong I was and emails about what a rotten human being and scholar I am. I fully expect the same in the next couple of days, but since I'll be silent it will be much easier. In any case, I agree with ADM in that "I cannot and would not conclude any sort of unprofessional or unethical behavior by the MAA, based on the little I know." But where I disagree is that Jeffrey's blog posts, FB comments, and letter, to varying degrees do accuse the leadership of the MAA of unprofessional and unethical behavior in an inflammatory fashion...and since Jeffrey has stood by his rhetoric I can only assume that he is aware of it's intent and import....and he's made these accusations without evidence.
I will reiterate that I stand by my post and am content to allow readers of ITM judge for themselves. I continue to believe that I am correct in what I gleaned about a fuller story not being conveyed, and I reaffirm my opinion that Gardiner and Musto brought good changes to the MAA.
I also suggest readers interested in this controversy read this piece in Insider Higher Ed for emerging background.
Maybe Gardiner and Musto resigned following row over future publishing strategy? In a world of Open Access not-for-profit organisations might very well muscle in on the privately owned publication houses and their profitable (and prohibitive) policies
I guess the main difference in our readings of Jeff's post above is that, despite it being posted in a public place, I see it as Jeff's opinion, which he qualifies carefully. Even taken in the context of a public statement, I cannot read it as inflammatory, nor do I see any accusations of people behaving unethically. On the contrary, I see it as an admonition: "Dear MAA, given the events of the last several years, and the clear dissatisfaction of many members regarding a perceived lack of consultation and transparency, you might want to consider that people will read the announcement this way. You might want to do something about that."
In terms of my own insertion of experience, etc., I just have to beg to differ. People do resign on short notice, but if there's no acrimony on either side, even the shortest-notice announcement will read something like, "Regrets soandso has resigned effective immediately for X reasons/new job. Organization will miss the contributions of soandso, who has been a valued colleague, but we understand and wish soandso well. Organization will be announcing details for a replacement search along Y timeline."
Now that's best practice, and not everywhere follows it, but generally, that's been my experience in every job, academic or otherwise, that I've had.
Also... I am going to call BS on something: generally speaking, professionals do not just up and quit without notice (especially two at once). People quit when there is, and has been, conflict, and they feel that the conflict cannot be resolved.
I am NOT assigning fault or ill-intent to any party in this case. I AM asserting that it's sensible to infer that the resignations are due to some sort of (or perception of) unresolvable conflict. I would say that in any similar situation, but having read the IHE piece this morning, it also seems to be the case.
Reading what I've just written, I think there's also another big difference in how you and I approach this. I don't see this as an issue of taking sides (and I don't particularly see Jeff's post as taking sides, either, except the side of wanting change and transparency). I see it merely as a question of whether the resignations have been handled well.
The internal questions and issues are things I'd like more information on, because the answers affect my continuing membership in MAA. But my immediate concern is that the announcement as sent was poorly worded, and offered no further information on what's going on. Eileen Joy's comment at IHE sums up those concerns very lucidly.
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