The Nolan Case

Within less than two months of being denied promotion by the History Department, Mary Nolan, assistant professor of History, received offers from two leading American universities: a tenure-track job at New York University and a firm offer of tenure from the University of California at Irvine. Wallace T. MacCaffrey, chairman of the History Department, has publicly stated that the criterion for promotion to associate professor at Harvard is "to be tenurable at a major American university." The denial of promotion to Mary Nolan, an outstanding teacher and scholar, means then, that either the History Department is not committed to the principles of affirmative action or that it ignores its own criteria.

Departmental autonomy and the apparent subjectivity of tenure and promotion criteria allow departments to cloak discrimination by paying only lip service to the search for qualified women (though in Nolan's case no search was even necessary). While standards continue to go unchallenged as somehow objectively correct, the History Department subverts the progress of qualified women further by inconsistently evaluating candidates even given their standards. "There is no question that the history department seriously underutilizes women," Phyllis Keller, Equal Employment Opportunity Officer for the Faculty, said recently. The department's decision to deny promotion to Mary Nolan is an example of the department's insensitivity to student and faculty needs.

The commitment of departmental faculty and the administration to undergraduate education must be called into question, despite the implementation of the Core Curriculum, when professors such as Kate Auspitz, Peter Stanley, and Mary Nolan are so easily dismissed. When scholarship, teaching,and necessary, interesting course offerings combine to help a candidate meet all criteria for promotion or tenure, whatever the case may be, one wonders why it is not granted. Last year students protested the decision not to keep Kate Auspitz of Social Studies at Harvard in some capacity, either in another department or in an administrative position (committees such as Social Studies cannot offer tenured spots). It is curious that Auspitz's two male predecessors were offered such alternative arrangements, while she was not. As usual, no justification is offered.

Nolan, extraordinarily qualified, has been denied promotion in a department that, peculiarly, has no tenured women. Her area of expertise is German economic and social history. Her tenure offers prove that her professional colleagues hold her work in high esteem.

Nolan has published several articles and reviews in reputable history journals, both in this country and in Germany. One article, a book review of Susann Miller's Burgerieden und Klassenkampf was, for example, published in 1976 in the Journal of Modern History, a journal which MacCaffrey himself described as "quite good". Her thesis, awarded "distinction," a rare and high honor, according to Professor Fritz Stern of Columbia University, an expert in German history and her Ph.D thesis adviser, "is a real contribution to the understanding of German social democracy and German social history in general." Her book, based on the thesis, is being published by the Cambridge University Press. Stern added that he had the "highest regard for her as a scholar and a person."

In addition, Nolan's teaching ability is widely accalimed by undergraduates and graduate students alike. She is described as "incredibly conscientious," her lectures as, "packed full of information and extemely insightful."

Nolan's combined perspective, feminist and socialist, is unique in the history department and her courses are in great demand. Her fall offering, History 1333: "The Crisis of Liberalism and Capitalism in Western Europe" drew about 150 students, while the conference course she offers this spring attracted more than five times as many students as could be accomodated. Students consistently want to take her courses, a clear indication of her skill as an educator.

Many students and members of the faculty and administration consider diversity essential to the quality of a liberal education. Diversity, however, seems to be acceptable only within a narrowly defined area. Nolan broadens the range of perspective on history to which students have access. MacCaffrey, however stated that he "doesn't think much of viewpoints one way or the other." MacCaffrey denies the importance of such a diversity of perspectives within the History Department and "doesn't think the department should have a 'political spectrum.'" MacCaffrey claims the emphasis is on scholarship and points out that the History Department is not the Government Department. Quite right: the Government Department does have one tenured woman. Just as political theory must be understood in its historical context, history cannot be appreciated in isolation from the method by which it is approached and interpreted. But not only does contact with Mary Nolan provide students with an increased understanding of an approach to the study of history not always available at Harvard, but she does so in a highly effective manner. Maybe that's part of the problem. Maybe she's too good.

The Nolan case is proof that Harvard's history department is not doing all it can and should to comply with affirmative action guidelines. The Nolan case and the Auspitz case are only two visible and prominent examples of prejudicial policies which discriminate, on one pretext or another, against the promotion and tenure of qualified women at Harvard. The problem is a pressing one. If departments are unwilling to improve their performance with regard to affirmative action, then it is the responsibility of the Harvard administration to see that those principles are upheld.

The issue threatens to become an invisible one, but the underlying problem will not so easily disappear. The lack of women in positions of high authority on the Faculty must be pointed out and condemned, repeatedly and vehemently, until concrete progress is made.

Alison Dundes '81 is a History and Literature concentrator and president of the Radcliffe Union of Students.

Alouette Kluge '81 is a Social Studies concentrator.