ASEEES Member Comments on Sign-on Letter of Feb. 5, 2015
Members were asked for comment on the Ransel Sign-on Letter of Feb 5 regarding the Cohen-Tucker Dissertation Fellowship matter. Of 77 responses, 51 gave permission to share their comments publicly; their statements are printed here in alphabetical order by the commenter's last name, with only light editing for spelling and format.
ASEEES should do everything in its power to ensure the fellowship comes to fruition. Individual students are free to apply or not to apply if they feel their views are in conflict with Cohen's; individual faculty are free to write recommendations or not. ASEEES is not a political advocacy organization but a group that exists to further the goals of its members. Taking a political stand at the expense of students who have been increasingly under pressure due to cutbacks in research funding is unconscionable. Moreover, it goes without saying that the harms are unevenly distributed, with students from elite universities suffering proportionately less and students at less-highly-ranked programs or who are members of disadvantaged groups suffering proportionately more.
If ASEEES or certain members of its board feel the need to soothe a guilty conscience with respect to Ukraine, I would suggest that a concrete gesture--such as a fellowship fund for scholars displaced by the conflict in Donetsk and Luhansk funded by donations from the membership--would be far more beneficial than an objectively harmful moralistic stance of the sort certain members of the ASEEES board have taken.
Anthony Anemone, The New School:
I urge the board members to accept the gift as originally offered in the names of Tucker and Cohen. And I reject the idea that accepting the gift implies that the Board or membership of the ASEEES endorses any of the specific positions argued by either scholar over the course of long careers. The fear that Cohen's controversial positions on current political issues will split the organization's membership is not, in my opinion, sufficient reason to refuse the gift with his name attached. Indeed, how can the Board be confident that the repercussions of rejecting Cohen's name on the membership will be less serious? Moreover, it reflects extremely poorly on us as intellectuals and scholars dedicated to unbiased scholarship to appear so afraid of minority and unpopular opinions. The damage to ASEEES's reputation may, in the long run, be even greater than the very real effects losing this gift will have on future graduate students.
Marina Antic, University of Pittsburgh:
I completely agree with the sentiment expressed in the letter addressed to the board on Feb 5, 2015.
Without entering into any substantial discussion regarding the political issues involved in the matter, as I believe their substance to be quite irrelevant, the fact that ASEEES a) refuses to take the offered scholarship fund or worse yet b) offers to take the money but refuses to publicly acknowledge the gift and c) considers the latter option a "compromise," all because of a political disagreement with the person who is offering this financial gift, is quite unprofessional and frankly, ridiculous.
The message ASEEES sends with this behavior is that the relative popularity of a scholar's political position is the overwhelming determinant of that scholar's value position in this field. That is to say, contrary to principles of academic freedom on which our entire profession supposedly rests, ASEEES is telling its members that they better watch what they say or they will be shunned by the profession.
Say it ain't so, Joe.
Stephen Blackwell, University of Tennessee:
I agree with all the points raised in the letter. There should be an amendment to the Association's bylaws clarifying that gifts and related naming opportunities will be honored without restrictions, except when the donor is strongly and widely known or believed to be guilty of human- or civil-rights abuses. Presumably some such guidance would create a clear enough line to exclude accepting gifts from or naming them in honor of truly bad actors, while protecting academic freedom and freedom of speech.
In the present case, the only logical approach is to offer the deepest apologies and retract the "November Compromise", as proposed in the letter, and offer to accept with gratitude the gift and naming if they are renewed. If people must resign from the board in protest, that is their free-speech prerogative.
Robert Blobaum, West Virginia University:
I agree with the sentiments expressed in the Ransel letter.
Martha Bohachevsky Chomiak, Retired academic and administrator:
On the basis of my experience in government and in private funding agencies, the Board acted properly in making certain that the organization operated in line with its own guidelines. When it became apparent that the existing guidelines did not cover the case in point, i.e. the scholarships being offered, the decision was taken not to draft specific guidelines on accepting monetary donations for programs, but to draft a comprehensive document. That document is under consideration by the Board.
It is a pity that the donors chose to both personify and politicize the issue.
My thanks to the Board for a comprehensive presentation of the case and for working to develop a platform that could be used in the future.
Jeffrey Brooks, Johns Hopkins University:
I support the board's earlier decision.
Elizabeth Clark, West Texas A&M University:
First, I have long been an admirer of Professor Cohen and Professor Tucker's work. Their books shaped my understanding of more than Russia, not just of that place, but of society, of humanity. I would be proud to send a graduate student into a competition bearing their names. Next, I believe that those who serve our on boards and committees do so for love of the discipline, of the region, and that they have, for the most part, the best of intentions. I grieve the choices, however, which led to dispute. I grieve that open discussion, so essential to academic life and to the importance of civil society we have witnessed in our lifetimes. I hope we can learn from this experience and be humble in asking for reconciliation, for the good of graduate students and the future of our profession.
David Cooper, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign:
For me, the Board's explanation is satisfactory. The Board seems to have acted in good faith and stewardship of the organization and to have tried hard not to offend, but rather to work with a scholar/donor whose work has been deliberately controversial. But this was a situation in which the Board could do no right, because the donor seems to have wanted this controversy as well. Far from the Board insulting the donor and making an example of him, it is the donor who has sought to make an example of himself, by leveling ridiculous charges at the Board and seeking to implicate it in a manufactured controversy. The reaction of the donor makes it very clear that he did not have the overall good of the organization and its members in mind--there is nothing charitable in his actions. In my opinion, the Board should do no more than to offer once again to give the would-be donor the opportunity to make good on the professed charitable intention, but to make it clear that for the organization to accept that charity, the terms will have to be agreeable to the Board according to its procedures, which cannot be forced by media or letter writing campaigns. The great team of scholars that makes up the board has my full trust and support in its leadership of the organization.
Michael David-Fox, Georgetown University:
I currently serve as chair of the Tucker-Cohen Dissertation Prize fellowship. Although the process by which the current, in my view lamentable situation occurred has hardly been completely transparent, I have familiarized myself at great length with what has been in the public domain. I strongly believe the following:
1. Any hint of philanthropic gifts from an ASEEES member, scholar, educator, and longstanding supporter of ASEEES (as Cohen is) being turned down on the basis of the donor's political views represents a profound, historic stain on our organization. It is also a professional embarrassment for ASEEES that will, if not rectified, create lasting splits in the organization and hence damage to our field. To be sure, ASEEES would be justified in rejecting gifts from a Holocaust denier, a racist, etc. Cohen's 40 years in the field as a scholar and educator should make the organization bend over backwards to avoid any possible implication of rejecting philanthropic gifts because of political statements made in the public domain.
2. The gift is very sorely needed by our field. One would also not want to accept "dirty money" from corrupt or dubious source, but here this is not all the case.
3. Both the above two issues are more important than the procedural ones that the ASEEES leadership has cited. Proper procedure is important, but it is not as important as ethical imperative and principle. In following what turned out to be a disastrous procedural course, the previous ASEEES leadership may have well been acting in the best of faith, although again events and motivations have been very far from transparent to the membership. However, I also believe that the emphasis on procedure over principal represented a very serious failure of leadership on the part of ASEEES.
This is our organization's chance to make things right, to correct previous mistakes, and to avoid the implication that it wittingly or unwittingly put politicization over professional ethics.
Donald E. Davis, professor emeritus, Illinois State University:
Dear Association: I wrote the Association earlier about this matter, and I am pleased that the board will meet again to reconsider it. I had almost lost faith in the Association's sense of fair play. So this is a refreshing new development.
Chester Dunning, Texas A&M University:
I do not approve of our professional association's decisions regarding Professor Stephen Cohen and his generous offer to provide research fellowships to graduate students. I love Steve Cohen's biography of Bukharin, and I have always found him to be a thoughtful, pro-Russian talking head on TV. What gives the current executives of our organization (that I joined in 1977) the right to pass judgment on the views of one of its most illustrious members? What was the hurry? Why not consult the rank-and-file members? During the Cold War we faced numerous requests to politicize our organization in order to carry the torch for various scholars at odds with (or oppressed by) Soviet-bloc governments. We generally resisted the urge to politicize ourselves in the moment in order to be relevant and useful in the long run. I did not know about this issue until I was contacted by ASEEES. I then made an effort to read what Prof. Cohen wrote about the conflict in E. Ukraine. I do not agree with everything he said (although he told some unhappy truths about participants in the new government in Kiev), and I think he romanticizes the Russian perspective. But I cherish his considered opinions and want them to be in the mix of clashing ideas that lead us to deeper understanding of Russia and Russian culture. We need him to balance against hysterically pro-Ukrainian voices that try to deny the inconvenient past. I do not want my professional association choosing sides between Slavic states and cultures. I want it to enhance the study of those societies. Please consider depoliticizing ASEEES.
Beatrice Farnsworth, Emeritus Professor of History, Wells College:
May I add my voice in a strong endorsement of Professor David Ransel's letters in support of the Stephen F. Cohen and Robert C. Tucker Dissertation Fellowship Program. Clearly, the effort to change the title of the proposed gift by eliminating Stephen Cohen's name, was based on unseemly, political considerations by members of ASEES, an organization which is supposedly devoted to free public discourse. In addition to slighting free speech and academic freedom, the effort to drop Stephen Cohen's name shows a shocking lack of respect for a senior colleague's long years of important contributions to the field of Soviet Studies.
Arch Getty, UCLA:
ASEEES' actions in this matter amounted to embarrassing political intervention in a matter that should have been a cause for celebration and gratitude in the current climate of fellowship funding cuts. The only acceptable action at this point is to accept the original KAT offer with thanks and apologies and with the proviso that ASEEES should oversee selection of fellowship candidates.
Zvi Gitelman, University of Michigan:
I am persuaded by Stephen F. Cohen's letter. I may disagree with his position on the Russia-Ukraine crisis, but for open-minded people it is important to hear even unpopular viewpoints. In their paroxysms of political correctness, some "scholars" put ideology ahead of information, thinking and reasoned judgment. I have the sense that this has become a norm in several fields, now more ideological than scholarly. I did not think this would happen in ours, but I have the sense this might well be the case here. To deprive people of badly-needed financial assistance because one disagrees with a particular position of the donor is unconscionable. It is not as if Prof. Cohen has committed a crime, or has attached unreasonable (or any) conditions to his and his wife's most generous gift. As a member of ASEEES since about 1964, I am appalled that the Board has acted as it has.
Jon Giullian, U Kansas:
I don't know why the board is making such a big deal out of this. Everyone is entitled to their own personal views. Stephen Cohen has every right to have his own views. ASEEES should have been happy to have Cohen's gift. There's nothing wrong with his name being attached to it.
Nina Gurianova, Northwestern University:
I am in complete agreement with the member sign-on letter of February 5.
First, on the part of the ASEEES Board this is a very disturbing precedent of self-censorship and attempt to limit freedom of speech and academic debate, which reminds me a lot of the intellectual atmosphere of the last two "decades of decay" of the former Soviet Empire. American Academy used to be — and I hope still is — about tolerance and well-articulated debate, not about hushing anybody who disagrees with you. Anybody is free to argue with Professor Cohen's political stance, but without personal abuse: he is a talented and outstanding scholar, who did a lot for the field, and should be treated accordingly. By the way, as Stephen Cohen wittily noted in his own letter, there is another fellowship under Tucker/Cohen name which was established earlier and is still active. This fact makes the whole pathos of rejecting new funding an apotheosis of absurdity.
Second, I believe that ASEEES members who pay quite substantial membership/conference fees not only deserve more clarity and transparency from the ASEEES Board procedures, but also since now on must have a voice (opinion poll, maybe? cost nothing to run it online now days) in such important decisions as rejecting major gifts which will determine the future of our field, the future of graduate studies.
I have decided to withdraw my membership unless these issues will be resolved according to the best principles of democracy, and academic ethics in all fairness and transparency at the May 11 meeting.
Larry Holmes, University of South Alabama:
Please accept the Cohen-Tucker fellowship offer in its original form. The offer should not have been politicized.
A Ross Johnson, The Wilson Center:
I endorse the views expressed in the member sign-on letter dated February 5 and urge the ASEEES Board to act accordingly.
Eric Johnson, University of Washington:
This is admittedly a self-interested comment. But for graduate students trying to study the Slavic world, and eventually find employment in that line, it is all to common to feel a pawn to to political, institutional, economic and personal conflicts outside one's control. I was dismayed to find this occurring even within the confines of ASEEES. Perhaps next time other sacrificial lambs can be identified.
Shoshana Keller, Hamilton College:
I sharply disagree with Stephen Cohen's views on Ukraine and on Putin's policies. However, he is a respected scholar and a long-time member of ASEEES, and he is generously offering help to graduate students at a time when we can only expect bad news from the traditional funding sources. I think it was foolish of ASEEES to turn down his offer, and I am disappointed that the executive board has not given us a full account of its decision. The impression I get is that some unnamed board members were afraid that there might be some kind of political backlash from equally unnamed sources. That is not a good reason to turn down Cohen's offer. I hope that the board will reverse its decision and give the membership a complete explanation of what's been going on.
Michael Khodarkovsky, Loyola University Chicago:
I believe that the Board acted correctly and in accordance with the Association's rules. If Mr. Cohen wishes to give money with no strings attached, he is welcome to do it. If he and his wife insist on exercising some control over the selection process or any other aspect of the Fellowships, they should set up their own foundation.
Nathaniel Knight, Seton Hall University:
I support the position taken by the board. I think board members were well within their rights to ask for a full discussion of the proposed fellowship before giving final approval. It is unfortunate that Professor Cohen and his wife took offense at this request and withdrew their offer. I also believe that removing Cohen's name from the fellowship was not an unreasonable proposal. Leaving aside all questions of Cohen's political views, I am uncomfortable with the principle that any living and active scholar can arrange for an honorary fellowship in his or her own name. This is not the same as a situation in which a wealthy donor might attain "naming rights" by making a sizable gift to an artistic or educational institution. When David Koch gives money to the opera, no one expects him to get up on stage and sing an aria. An named fellowship or award with a learned society is understood to stand as recognition of a lifelong record of exemplary contributions to the field. I make no judgment as to whether Professor Cohen is worthy of such recognition. The question is -- who decides? ASEEES does, in fact, have a lifetime achievement award that bestows recognition on outstanding senior scholars through a rigorous vetting process. I am uncomfortable with the notion that a scholar could bypass this vetting process and procure scholarly recognition for himself by delivering a substantial financial gift. The established practice is to create named awards and fellowship in remembrance of deceased colleagues whose scholarship and teaching has shaped the field. I believe this is a wise practice and should continue, and I would support a proposal that ASEEES establish this as a general policy across the board: named fellowship and awards should be granted posthumously to outstanding scholars in recognition of their lifelong contributions. Given the long list of eminent colleagues who have passed away in recent years, there should be no shortage of worthy candidates.
Eve Levin, University of Kansas:
I would like for the Board to inform Prof. Cohen and his wife that it regrets its previous ungracious handling of their generous offer of fellowships for graduate students. And that they would gratefully accept the funding for fellowships should it be extended again. From my perspective, it is certainly appropriate that the fellowship program should bear the name of the donor. Although some of Stephen Cohen's views have been controversial, so were the views of Robert Tucker--and, indeed, the views of nearly any of us who are members of ASEEES. Acceptance of funding does not connote endorsement of specific opinions that the donor had voiced; if it did, ASEEES would need to reject donations from all of us! Any person who would be mortified to receive a fellowship named for Stephen Cohen need not apply for one. As for the policy on gifts, it is a good idea to have one, so that this sort of situation does not arise in the future. I understand that the Board would like the policy to include an escape clause, so that it would be free to reject a gift from a scandalous source. But inclusion of such a clause could lead to a repetition of the current situation. Perhaps the policy could differentiate between donations from members, which would be accepted, and donations from outsiders (individuals or corporations) which would be subject to Board approval.
Lynn Lubamersky, Boise State University:
I support the Board in their decision not to go forward with the fellowship. If the donors wished to give a scholarship in the name of Robert Tucker, that would have been great and no one would have questioned the decision to accept the funds. But it is egotistical and megalomaniacal to fund a fellowship in your own name while you are still alive and to dictate very strict terms for how the monies should be used. And finally, the ASEEES would be degrading the organization if it allowed for the creation of a Stephen Cohen fellowship. The title of the March 14, 2015 New York Magazine cover story says it all: "The Pathetic Lives of Putin's American Dupes." Stephen Cohen has been a mouthpiece for a mass murderer and the ASEEES does not have my support if it reverses its earlier decision and allows for the creation of any fellowship in his name.
Laurie Manchester, Arizona State University:
I urge the Board to gratefully accept the KAT Foundation's fellowship program in its original form, if the offer is renewed. To clarify, since the terms of this fellowship changed several times during negotiations, Stephen Cohen's name should be kept in the fellowship's title, but he will not play any role in the selection of recipients or members of the selection committee. I also urge the board to strike the vague new policy regarding not accepting gifts from persons or organizations that might harm ASEEES's reputation, or at the very least, to put that policy to a vote by the general membership.
Ellen Mickiewicz, Duke University:
As past president of ASEEES (when it was AAASS) and a former Graduate School Dean, I understand the importance to the association and its members, as well as to the prospective donors, of the gift proposal. I support the letter of David Ransel and his co-signers and add the following observations:
AAASS was formed in the highly contentious politicized environment of the Cold War. It is a testament to its judicious founders and shared good will of its members, that throughout these years, so many areas of research were discussed and points of view, presented. Given, this history, it is illogical to designate 2014 and this gift proposal as causing politicized division among an unnamed "few" at the Board meeting. That is quite insufficient as a reason for refusing this gift proposal or, indeed, coming to a decision of any kind. We have always been a big tent for the most contested approaches to politics and research. We owe it to our history and our purpose to continue that tradition—if we are to survive.
In the ASEEES perusal of two gift policy templates, one of the most important—perhaps the only important policy issue—has been ignored. It is considered inappropriate in all policies with which I am familiar for the donor to have a voice in the selection of the awardee(s). Yale University returned to the Bass family their very large donation, because the donor had included his right to affect selection of the candidate. I have dealt with many gifts and understand the practice to be the following: that the donor and the selection be separated, but as a matter of courtesy—and courtesy only—the university keeps the donor apprised of the progress of the program (e.g. number of candidates, special events scheduled for them, etc.) The donor may, in some cases, be given access to the short list in a competition, but may not register preference. This central point should be addressed in any policy on donations and gifts.
A policy on gifts is needed and may operate with respect to future gifts, but the organization's failure to have developed a policy is punitive when hastily and without due procedure, that absence of policy is used to deny, delay, or otherwise symbolically denigrate an offer of a gift. I believe that the ASEEES is virtually unique in its collaborative mode of inclusiveness across disciplines and cultures and over the course of decades of political turmoil. It is the good of the whole that has kept the membership and its officers determined to make it last.
Peter Milich, Independent Scholar:
I think the board got it right the first time round. Let's go back to the status quo ante so to speak, assuming that option is still on the table as a means of resolving this impasse. In other words, accept the money and allow Professor Cohen to call it whatever he wants--after all he's earned it. I understand some members insist this solution is a violation of the bylaws but in my opinion this is simply a foil to punish Cohen he stands up for US-Russia relations. The board should have made discreet changes to the bylaws after the fact so as not to offend Professor Cohen or a future benefactor. After all, one should never look a gift horse in a mouth.
David B. Miller, Prof emeritus, Roosevelt University:
The ASEEES should accept the generous offer of Cohen/Tucker fellowships, if the sponsor can be persuaded to again make them available. Their utility is obvious. The ASEEES's tergiversation regarding the offer was shameful. To be swayed by unnamed (and named) opinion makers to turn them down because of Cohen's views on the Ukrainian situation, and maybe about other things, does not do us proud. This time get it right and hope the offer is still available.
Martin A. Miller, Duke University:
As an original signer of the letter requesting the Board to reinstate the award in the name of Cohen, I restate that request here. I find the recent objections using obviously political names to be entirely irrelevant to this matter.
Marianna Muravyeva, Oxford Brookes University:
I have been surprised with the whole affair around Prof. Cohen's generous donation to help with dissertation fellowships. Having read everything available on ASEEES webpages and other sources, I have arrived to the conclusion that the motivation in delays with acceptance the prize has been purely political in a sense, that those individuals who disagreed with Cohen could not tolerate his name in the fellowship's title while not generally objecting to the donation itself. This is, of course, a disgrace. I have also been surprised with the clarifications given by the Board and lame attempts to cite procedure and the absence of Gift policies: why has this issue not been raised before in connection with other prizes and fellowships? I do not support Cohen's views and disagree with his assessment of the situation (I think it's quite naive); however, every person has a right to express their opinion on matters important to their consciousness or politics. In the academic community we are supposed to respect our opponent's opinions and try to find a way to understand and reflect on it, otherwise, any sound research or academic work is not possible. As far as I could see, Cohen and the KAT foundation have not required any political control over the fellowships or have not provided any clauses saying that only those supporting Putin can have a fellowship. Their money do not seem to be dirty: they do not come from laundering, they have not been stolen, Prof. Cohen has not been abusing human rights, committing genocide or terrorism or other crimes. I do not see any objection to why his name (which is a common policy for many prizes to name them after the donors) cannot figure in the prize's title. Those students, who will find it difficult or disagreeable with their political opinions, do not have to apply for this money. But to shame Prof. Cohen whose scholarship is sound and who has every right to be recognized by the academic community as a fellow scholar and count on its respect, is not what ASEEES should be doing. Till this moment I have never had any doubts about the integrity of the Board, but now I have a feeling that some board members push their political agenda at the expense of academic solidarity, respect and integrity expecting everybody to scold Cohen just because he says that Putin's opinion shall be heard. This is a clear case of censorship and we cannot allow that to happen. Coming from the country, which is currently censoring any political and academic dialogue and opinions, I cannot accept the same policy from the organisation which prides itself on respect to the academic freedom. If someone does not like Cohen, they shall face him in an open discussion and explain soundly why he is wrong (or why Putin's opinion shall not be heard), but not censor him by denying his name on the prize. Moreover, if the Board proceeds with not accepting the donation for obvious reasons (reputation damage?), then it has to be very clear as to why it cannot accept money from those who have a different opinion on certain aspects of intentional relations or, indeed, why the opinions of authoritarian leaders shall not be made known. This is an important methodological question and I would love to hear a substantiated argument on that.
Eric Naiman, UC Berkeley:
Neither the political nor professional views of a potential donor should never be a factor in deciding whether to accept a gift. This is especially true if those views concern matters studied by our discipline. From what I understand, the board's decision was motivated partially by the donor's political and professional views. To the extent that this is true, the board (through its president) should apologize to the donors and to the entire membership.
I wish to add, however, that I do not think donors should have any power to choose the members of a selection committee that will administer the awarding of fellowships. If that string is attached, the board should decline the gift, no matter who the donor is.
Benjamin Nathans, University of Pennsylvania:
I consider it in the overwhelming interest of our profession, and especially of future cohorts of graduate students, that the generous gift proposed by Prof. Cohen and Ms. vanden Heuvel be accepted and put to use as intended. I see no legitimate reason for anyone ever to have proposed that Prof. Cohen's name be disassociated from the gift, nor have I heard any such reason offered. The necessary conditions have been met to insure that the planned fellowship will be insulated from political or other undue influence, and therefore I urge the ASEEES Board to do whatever it can to realize this exceptional opportunity.
Don Ostrowski, Harvard University:
I fully support naming the fellowship the Stephen F. Cohen-Robert C. Tucker fellowship and do not see any legitimate reason for not doing so. As I understand it, Professor Cohen was told that ASEEES will accept his money but that it refuses to put his name on the fellowship. I don't think the Board quite understands how reprehensible that sounds. Professor Cohen is one of the finest scholars in our field, and I really don't see the need to insult him. To do so after he offers to make such a generous donation to help students working on their dissertations seems to me to be extraordinarily inappropriate behavior.
Alexander Rabinowitch, Indiana University:
I write as a strong supporter of David Ransel's sign-on letter of February 5 and one of its many signers. I also write as an active member of AAASS/ASEEES for all of my professional life and as chair of the selection committee formed by ASEEES last July to help define application procedures for the Cohen-Tucker Dissertation Fellowship Program and to select its first group of fellows. I believed then, and remain convinced, that the aid the program would provide for graduate students in Russian history is vital to our field.
On September 10, when the work of our committee was well underway and the new program was nearly set to be announced publicly, it was suddenly cancelled pending a full review by the entire ASEEES Board in November. Profoundly shocked by this development, on September 25 I sent a letter to the ASEEES Executive Committee and Board, cosigned by the other members of the selection committee--Professors Katerina Clark (Yale) and Richard Wortman (Columbia)--expressing disappointment at this turn of events and urging that the Board's review in November culminate in a decision to ask the KAT Foundation to reconsider funding a dissertation fellowship program along the lines previously agreed on. Our letter stressed the cardinal importance of the fact that both AAASS and ASEEES have always been rich, critically important forums for the free exchange and discussion of widely differing views and perspectives among among experts on highly controversial, emotionally charged issues. Professor Cohen, it should be noted, is an internationally known expert on Soviet/Russian history and politics. However, I received no indication that our appeal was considered by the Board. Rather, the Board agreed to accept the program on the condition that it would not bear Cohen's name.
I am grateful that the ASEEES leadership has offered this opportunity to comment publicly on the question of a dissertation fellowship program bearing Cohen's name and that of the late Robert C. Tucker, also a leading scholar of Russian affairs and a former mentor of Cohen's. As expressed in the selection committee's letter of September 25 and Professor Ransel's sign-on letter of February 5, I want to stress my concern about the possibility that political considerations, namely Cohen's well-known dissent from mainstream views about responsibility for the Ukrainian crisis, may have influenced decision making on the naming of the new dissertation fellowship program. Therefore, I again urge most strongly that at its May meeting, the ASEEES Board resolve to ask the KAT Foundation to reconsider funding the Cohen-Tucker Fellowship Program in its original form with the understanding that if the offer is renewed, it will be accepted.
Janet Rabinowitch, Indiana University:
Thank you for giving ASEEES members an opportunity to comment ahead of the Board's special meeting on May 11 on the Cohen-Tucker Dissertation Fellowship program that was offered to ASEEES by the KAT Foundation, accepted by the ASEEES Executive Committee, and then put on hold because some Board members raised objections after the contract that ASEEES prepared was signed by the KAT Foundation.
I write to urge in the strongest terms that the ASEEES Board vote to accept the Stephen F. Cohen-Robert C. Tucker Dissertation Fellowship program as named and that the Board gratefully accept the KAT Foundation's generous offer if it is reinstated following a positive vote. Acceptance and implementation of the Fellowship Program advances a key priority of ASEEES as stated in the gift policy adopted at the November Board meeting: "offering financial support for conducting and sharing research." Indeed, the Executive Committee, in its Detailed Clarification of February 3, confirmed its "trust that in due course it will be possible to institute a dissertation fellowships program of the kind proposed in August 2014." The Cohen-Tucker Fellowship program, if accepted by the Board and reinstated by the donors, presents such an opportunity to support one important segment of the field: Russian historical studies. That the program honors two distinguished scholars, also recognized by the ASEEES Cohen-Tucker dissertation prize, fittingly enhances the fellowships' prestige.
In addition, I urge that the Board's discussion be reported candidly and publicly to the ASEEES membership. While it may not be appropriate to identify who said what, it is critical to the trust of the membership in its leadership that it be made aware of what issues were discussed, what views were expressed, what motions were made and voted upon, and the results of the voting.
Donald J. Raleigh, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill:
By appending my name to the two missives authored by David Ransel, I have already made my position on this issue clear. I urge the Board of Directors to reject the compromise proposal and to accept the Cohen-Tucker Dissertation Fellowship gift as named. As someone who trains a large number of graduate students, I also urge the Board to do everything possible to assure the KAT Foundation that, if its generous fellowship offer is renewed, the board will gratefully accept it with the original title.
Henry Reichman, California State University, East Bay (and AAUP):
As a signatory of the letter, I fully endorse its contents and -- in the strongest possible terms -- urge the ASEEES board to reverse its previous stance on this issue, to apologize to Stephen Cohen and Katrina Vanden Heuvel, and to invite them to resubmit their generous offer, with a promise that if they do it shall be accepted. As the Chair of AAUP's Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure, I am deeply concerned that while the Association's response has not technically violated any AAUP policies, its spirit runs counter to the principles that AAUP -- and ASEEES -- have endorsed. While I can certainly think of donations that might come with unacceptable conditions (surely the Association would reject a Stalin-Molotov award, even if there were no other conditions attached to it), but as a general principle so long as donors do not seek to impose ideological or political conditions on the use of their donations, they should be permitted to attach whatever name they wish to any awards they seek to fund. Stephen Cohen and his wife have generously offered to fund a vital program. Cohen himself is a distinguished scholar in our field and long-time member of our association. If members of the board or others disagree with some of his views, they are, as always, free to do so in print, at our conventions, or anywhere they see fit. But such disagreements cannot justify the kind of stance the board has taken. If this shameful decision is not reversed and an apology made to Cohen and Vanden Heuvel, I will need to seriously reconsider whether ASEEES is still the sort of neutral scholarly organization that I wish to participate in.
Alfred J. Rieber, Central European University:
The long explanation by the board of its decision not to accept the Cohen-Tucker fellowship proposal relies on procedural arguments that, unfortunately, obscure the real issue which is political. I support the view expressed by many of my colleagues that the only way forward is to accept the original proposal with the proviso,already agreed upon to by Professor Cohen, that the selection committee be appointed without the participation of the donors. Any further delay will impinge heavily on the quality of doctoral training of historians of Russia and the Soviet Union in the U.S.at a critical moment for the profession. Having participated from the beginning in the campaign to reverse the decision of the executive committee and gaining no satisfaction up to this point, I have decided not to renew my fifty year long membership in the ASEEES as a sign of my disappointment with the current policies of the organization.
Deirdre Ruscitti, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign:
Like Dr. Ransel and the other signatories on the letter, I was troubled by the initial lack of transparency in handling this issue. As a grad student who knows firsthand the difficulty of securing funding for research at a time when budgets are being slashed, I did not appreciate having the board speak for me by asking Dr. Cohen to remove his name without any discussion among ASEEES members. While Dr. Cohen's positions are worthy of debate--I have my own disagreements with what he is said--to essentially marginalize him for his status as a controversial public intellectual is a harmful precedent. (Indeed, we should encourage more of our members to engage in wider, public conversations!) The "compromise" position of ASEEES hurts grad students and has a chilling affect on public discourse within our profession. I strongly urge the board to reverse its decision. Thank you for your time.
Peter Rutland, Wesleyan:
I support the Ransel letter and urge the board to try to reinstate the fellowship program.
Walter Sawatsky, Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary:
Given the decades of scholarly focus on the slavic world, where I thought the AAASS & successor sought to model open transparent dialogue on controversial issues, I cannot imagine why a board, however constituted, would not make public, nor exercise some form of censorship on membership contributions. It is the dialogue, and open style of it, that matters, including professional reliance on accuracy of sources.
Brandon Schechter, UC Berkeley:
Graduate students need support to make up for lost federal funding. Period. As long as the people funding the research have no input in what topics are explored, I don't think it matters what the prize is called. To be frank, as a graduate student, I am deeply concerned that established scholars are putting their comfort and politics above the material well being of scholars who are attempting to establish themselves in an increasingly unforgiving academic system (by which I mean more general trends in higher education, such as the decline of tenure and federal funding). I appreciate that the board has difficult decisions to make, but urge them to put the future of our field first.
Lewis Siegelbaum, Michigan State University:
Both common decency and good policy dictate that the ASEEES Board issue an explicit apology to Stephen F. Cohen for the earlier insult couched as a "compromise" and further seek to repair the damage by accepting his initial offer of fellowships funded by the KAT Foundation, with the sole proviso that ASEEES control the process by which recipients of the fellowships are chosen.
Rudra Sil, University of Pennsylvania:
I am pleased to see that the ASEEES Board has opted to hold a special meeting in May. But this will be for naught if the meeting does not result in some sort of plan to solicit and accept anew the original gift offered by Stephen Cohen and Katrina vanden Heuvel. It is understandable that ASEEES would want to have a gift acceptance policy, and I am willing to believe that the policy adopted is motivated by broader concerns than those raised by the Cohen-Tucker fellowship. However, the policy should not be applied in a way that could be interpreted as favoring one opinion on current politics over another. Conflicts in our regions will likely recur, and respectable scholars and donors will find themselves on opposite sides of whatever debates ensue. It would be terrible mistake if the Board were to view a particular donor's opinions as intrinsically harmful to ASEEES's mission or reputation. That would make every gift acceptance decision an implicit endorsement or rejection of an opinion, and this would do far more harm (probably irreparable) to ASEEES than acceptance of any one named gift could possibly do.
Yuri Slezkine, University of California Berkeley:
I urge the Board to apologize to the donors and gratefully accept the gift, if possible.
Theodore Taranovski, University of Puget Sound, emeritus professor of history:
I agree with the sentiments expressed by Prof. Ransel and the cosigners of his letter (and you may add my name to their list). I have never been a fan of Prof. Cohen and his spouse, but I think that ASEEES is, indeed, engaging in a form of intellectual censorship for political reasons that is both unseemly and unfortunate. There is also the adage of not looking a gift horse in the mouth. Slavic studies need all the help that they can get and so long as there are no disqualifying conditions attached to the gift, the Association should accept it and be grateful.
William Mills Todd III, Harvard University:
I strongly support the position of the "member sign-on letter of Feb. 5, 2015" and hope that ASEEES will accept this contribution to scholarship in the field, preserving the names "Cohen" and "Tucker," two teacher-scholars who have made many distinguished contributions to our field.
Lynne Viola, University of Toronto:
I urge you to attempt to bring Stephen Cohen and Katerina Van den Heuvel back to the table with their generous offer of support of our graduate students. Stephen Cohen is the author of one of the all time classics of our field, Bukharin and the Bolshevik Revolution. I should think any graduate student would be proud to hold a fellowship in his name. I also urge full transparency on this issue for the sake of the association and indeed of the profession. And I wish you well.
Richard Wortman, Columbia University:
I believe the Committee and Board operated properly within what were rather vague parameters for grant acceptance. However, I think that this evades the major issue--that Stephen Cohen's proposal, which had no political content, was rejected because of his political views. It is therefore not a question of freedom of speech, but rather one of taking into account his political views, which I do not share, but which have nothing to do purposes of the fellowships, which are purely academic. When asked, Cohen withdrew the proposed Selection Committee, of which I was a member, and I think the request and the response were both completely appropriate. I think the original proposal should be resubmitted to the Board, and a vote taken. If the vote is against acceptance, the numbers pro and contra should be reported, and a report issued giving the substantive reasons for the rejection, in other words the ASEEES should make explicit the academic reasons for the rejection and not take cover under procedural intricacies which will not be clarified for a long while. As a very long term member of the association, I feel, like others who wish its continued survival, that such matters should not be decided by a politically ardent minority bent on assailing their enemy.
Myroslava Znayenko, Rutgers University:
I do not support the Cohen Fellowship. Named Fellowship are established to honor the work of critically acclaimed personalities, who are deceased, and who have made a pathbreaking contribution to scholarship or humanitarians advances. He is neither one, nor the other, nor the third. They are certainly never made aggrandizement with personal funds.