Statement from the ASECS Executive Board to ASECS Members on the Recent Controversies
February 12, 2021
Dear ASECS Members,
In the past week two controversies have prompted many of you to communicate with the Society’s Executive Board. Yesterday we met to discuss both of these issues, and would now like to share with you the result of those discussions.
I. Presidential Address Abstract
On February 9 the Society published a draft program for our 2021 online annual meeting. Page 20 included an abstract for a Presidential Address to be delivered by William Warner. Since the publication of this abstract, the ASECS Executive Board has heard directly or indirectly from many of you, and from others who are not members of our Society but have an interest in our field. The overwhelming sentiment from those who responded was one of disappointment, hurt, and outrage. Many of you have asked the Board to take action to correct the harm caused by the publication of this abstract.
We would first like to thank all of you who took the time in our present, challenging circumstances to communicate your views to the Board. We appreciate that for many of you this incident, combined with the decision discussed below regarding a statement on antisemitism, has been upsetting. We too are dismayed by President Warner’s abstract, for many of the reasons you have expressed. We particularly regret the implication that proponents of Critical Race Theory are continuing the thought and practices of Robespierre and Lenin, and the insinuations that many have read into the phrase “the ‘woke’ diversity radicals of our times.” President Warner is writing separately to the membership to express his regret for the damage done by this incident.
In response, the Board has decided to take the following actions:
● President Warner’s session will no longer occupy a plenary spot on the program. He will still present his work, but it will be scheduled for one of our multi-session time slots alongside several other panels. The designation “Presidential Address” will be removed from the listing for this session, because this label implies that the President’s views are consistent with those of the Society and the field. The Board does not endorse the views implied, intentionally or not, in the abstract submitted by President Warner.
● In the plenary slot that was to be occupied by this address, we will now schedule a round-table for all members devoted to a discussion of issues of race in eighteenth-century studies. The Board will be working with the Program Committee in the coming days to develop themes and a format for this round-table, to which we invite all members of the Society. We welcome ideas from the membership for this round-table.
● The “Ombuds Presentation,” listed on the draft program for Friday, April 9 from 5:10-6:10 pm EST, featuring our Ombuds, Associate Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion/Chief Civil Rights Officer Nyree Gray of Claremont McKenna College, will be a listening session (details tba) to create space and contribute to developing a path forward.
● In the weeks to come the Society will also host an online Town Hall meeting open to all its members to discuss the issues that have arisen from the publication of this abstract, and from the controversy over the antisemitism statement. We will ask our Ombuds, Nyree Gray, to moderate this discussion.
Finally, we propose a review and reconfiguration of the ASECS governance structure. The Board, Steering Committee, and other entities have made decisions in recent years that have caused unnecessary pain and conflict. The damaging events this week show that we must now institute structural change in the Society’s governance based on the principles of representation and transparency.
II. Antisemitism Statement
We would also like to thank the ASECS members who took time to share their displeasure with the Steering Committee’s response to a proposal sent by Rebecca Shapiro and Jared Richman. In their proposal, they requested that the Steering Committee write and circulate a statement against antisemitism. We acknowledge that the response was inadequate and we apologize for the hurt that we caused. We will soon be posting an antisemitism statement drafted in consultation with the membership.
In addition, ASECS will revise its policy on issuing public statements of advocacy and protest on behalf of the organization and its members, which has been the sole purview of the Steering Committee and Executive Board, in order to render the process more transparent and collaborative. Currently there is no mechanism for involving the membership in the discussion, drafting, approval and circulation of such statements. We are a highly interdisciplinary Society of 1500+ members and recognize that the process by which official statements are issued by ASECS requires both greater responsiveness and consultation with respect to matters of importance to our members. Our immediate action will be to formulate a procedure whereby the membership can be involved in shaping how such organization-wide statements are issued. Our hope is that this process will begin to right some of the wrongs caused by the Committee’s response to Dr. Shapiro and Dr. Richman’s request. We believe that instituting necessary structural change in the Society’s governance and operations based on the principles of representation and transparency will prevent similar inadequate responses in the future.
The Board will also draft a Values Statement that expresses unambiguously the core commitment of our society to oppose any and all forms of bigotry, hatred, exclusion, and verbal and physical harassment. At a minimum, we hope this will confirm that a commitment to anti-discrimination is a central component of the policies and actions of ASECS.
Like many of you, we deeply regret the anger and hurt occasioned by these incidents. We especially regret the setback this incident has caused to our Society’s efforts to become more diverse, more equitable, more inclusive, and more accessible. We believe that ASECS has made significant strides in these areas in recent years, as evidenced by the adoption of a sexual harassment policy, the appointment of an Ombuds, and the outstanding work done by our DEIA Committee in its first year and a half of existence. But there is much that remains to be done, as the past week has shown. We call on ourselves, and on our membership as a whole, to continue this work. We hope that the actions outlined above will provide all of us with opportunities to repair the damage done and continue this important work together.
The Members of the ASECS Executive Board