“Anonymous” has little more to offer us here than name-calling and baseless accusations. He calls William Roger Louis “spineless” and “bottom-feeding” and accuses him of “incompetent leadership” as former president of the AHA (without a shred of evidence, of course). Current and former employees of the Historian’s Office who have criticized Susser’s leadership are “children … involved in a pseudo-intellectual temper tantrum,” who simply don’t want to “meet deadlines,” “follow rules and regulations,” or “be held accountable for their actions in general.” Prof. Louis and the Advisory Committee, he asserts, have “formed an intellectual lynch mob.” The “historical profession” consists of “unquestioning, weak, and uncritical minds.”
Temper tantrum, indeed!
Although it is difficult to sift through the comments of “Anonymous” to find arguments based in fact, I will do my best to respond as another one of the “folks who’ve been following the issue more closely,” including the apparent efforts by “anon” at the Chronicle website and “Anonymous” at this website to besmirch Professor Louis’s good name. Both “anon” and “Anonymous” share a mutual distaste for anonymous accusations, except when they are making such accusations themselves.
First, “Anonymous” claims that the only evidence against Susser of mismanagement is a “sealed envelope” of anonymous complaints, which “Anonymous” anonymously dismisses without even knowing their content. Just because the complaints are anonymous does not mean that they are untrue; if that were the case, we should disregard everything “Anonymous” has written here – although perhaps we should do so, anyway.
However, Professor Louis presented more evidence to Secretary of State Rice than anonymous complaints. He wrote, for example: “So large are the numbers of staff members leaving, or contemplating departure [at the Historian’s Office, HO], that the integrity of the Foreign Relations series is now in jeopardy. To give you a rough idea of the extent of the problem, 15 historians or compilers in a staff of about 35 have left in the last three years during Dr. Susser’s tenure.” An attached commentary by a “long time member of the staff” at HO noted that in the past year, FRUS lost seven of its 35 compilers – 20% of the staff – and 30% of its FRUS staff experience (64 out of 212 years). Louis also provided Rice with a letter from Dr. Edward C. Keefer, the former General Editor of the Foreign Relations series, who, according to Louis, “felt obliged to resign in August of this year in protest against office mismanagement and the probable deterioration of the series.” Keefer’s complaint against Susser’s management was not anonymous – a fact that “Anonymous” should appreciate. Louis also provided Rice with “a comparative statistical study of staff attrition, and the reasons, under the last two Historians, William Slany (1993 - 2000) and Marc Susser (2001 to present).” I question “Anonymous’s” assertion that the Historian’s Office “has some of the highest retention rates in the Department of State.” Perhaps Anonymous is including Foreign Service Officers, who normally rotate out of a given position every two years? The Historian’s Office consists exclusively of civil servants. Anyway, the proper standard of comparison for retention in the Historian’s Office under Susser is not the State Department as a whole, but the office under his predecessors. Unlike the other offices at State, practically all the compilers working on FRUS have Ph.D.’s in history and have wanted to remain in the historical profession – well, at least until recently. Louis is thus correct in comparing retention under Susser to his predecessor, William Slany, and the comparison is unfavorable to Susser. For Louis’s letter, see http://fas.org/sgp/advisory/state/wrlouis112808.pdf.
In addition to the signed complaints of Prof. Louis and Dr. Keefer – and yes, the anonymous letters of current and former staff members – two other former HO staff members are now publicly on the record as opposed to the managerial status quo at the Historian’s Office. A recent article by Justin Vogt in the New Yorker reports on the experiences of Craig Daigle, a former member of the HO staff and current assistant professor at the City University of New York (see http://www.newyorker.com/talk/2009/01/12/090112ta_talk_vogt). According to Vogt, Daigle wrote in a memorandum to the advisory committee: “Susser warned him that if he ‘committed any mistake, had any problems with security issues, or created any dissension within the office, he would ‘cut my fucking heart out.’ ” Daigle’s assertion is not anonymous; it is within the public domain, and Susser can respond. If Daigle’s assertion is true, it might help explain why others with complaints have chosen to remain anonymous; perhaps they are rather attached to their own hearts? Another former staff member, Douglas Selvage, has published an online comment about the status of the Historian’s Office, in which he calls on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to take remedial action (http://hnn.us/articles/60911.html). Apparently, based on his five years of experience in the office, he tends to believe the concerns of the Historical Advisory Committee (HAC) over Susser’s claims. It would seem that Selvage, despite Susser’s assertions to the contrary, did have concerns about Susser’s management of the office before he left. If Susser and “Anonymous” want to have a public argument, they can apparently have it.
So much for “Anonymous” and “anonymity”; it seems that those concerned about Susser’s management of the office are more willing to go public than Susser and his erstwhile supporters, including “Anonymous.”
Second, “Anonymous” writes, “If anyone within Susser's office has a complaint, then they should use the proper channels to complain.” Isn’t the Advisory Committee a “proper channel”? “Anonymous” is likely referring to the internal grievance procedures of the Department of State. If someone did use those channels to complain – and they probably did, given the number of complaints – the process is confidential. How could “Anonymous” know that office employees did not make use of such channels? Of course, this raises an important point. Since personnel matters, including grievances, at the State Department are confidential, this helps explain why all the relevant sources are not available to historians to analyze. The personnel records of Susser and his staff are not available to the public; nor should they be. Rather than publish the anonymous complaints in the sealed envelope, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice appointed a three-person review committee to investigate the situation. Clearly, she took the situation more seriously than “Anonymous” does; she met personally with Prof. Louis – guess she doesn’t consider him to be a “bottom feeder” – and the Historical Advisory Committee – apparently, not an “intellectual lynch mob” to her. The review committee has spoken with practically all current and former employees of the office, including Susser and HO’s supervisors, and reviewed all available evidence. They submitted their report, including their recommendations to Secretary Rice, and she forwarded it to Under Secretary for Management Patrick Kennedy for implementation. We can only hope that the committee’s findings will soon be made public. Such a report from an outside committee will undoubtedly go beyond the anonymous and public statements of Susser’s supporters and detractors and present summary conclusions. The report can hopefully provide the basis for the very public and open debate about Susser’s management that “Anonymous” is seeking.
Third, from a State Department perspective, it seems clear that Susser has mismanaged HO’s relationship to the Historical Advisory Committee. This is particularly grave, given that HO lies within the State Department’s Bureau of Public Affairs – its public relations outfit – and that HO is supposed to fulfill an outreach function to historians and the scholarly community in general. After Professor Tom Schwartz of Vanderbilt University drafted last year’s annual report for the committee, which criticized HO under Susser’s management, HO summarily decided not to renew Schwartz’s membership on the committee. In response to this apparent purge, Professor Edward Rhodes of Rutgers University resigned in protest from the HAC. Schwartz’s removal, he wrote Secretary Rice, “appears to reasonable, informed observers as a calculated, punitive step by the department designed to intimidate the Advisory Committee and to reduce its independence.” (See http://www.fas.org/sgp/advisory/state/rhodes120208.pdf.) Moreover, the day before Louis read his resignation letter into the meeting’s record, “someone in Susser’s office,” Vogt writes, “had called [Louis’s assistant] and said that if Louis made the letter public ‘his career would be over.’” Are the postings of “Anonymous” part of such an attempt to realize this colorful and hopeless fantasy of revenge? At any rate, Susser did not seem to deal well with the advisory committee’s criticisms; perhaps this is another reason why Secretary Rice turned to an outside committee for assistance.
Fourth, “Anonymous” apparently does not believe – like Susser himself – that the loss of experienced employees constitutes a problem. This failure to retain experienced employees is central to Professor Louis’s argument – outside the “sealed envelope” – that Susser has been mismanaging the Historian’s Office. Selvage has noted in his posting for History News Network: “HO has responded to the committee’s criticism not by explaining any steps it has taken or will take to retain experienced employees; instead, it has responded by claiming it can rapidly replace experienced people with new, inexperienced people. Such an attitude is part of the problem, not the solution.” The Historian’s response to the Advisory Committee’s critical annual report argues that the ongoing loss of experienced employees “does not constitute a ‘chronic shortage,’ or a problem of retention, or a problem of replacement. The fact is that the Office had no difficulty replacing either of these compilers, or, in fact, any staff member who has left over the years, with highly skilled researchers” – i.e., new researchers fresh out of graduate school. (http://fas.org/sgp/advisory/state/2007report-edit.pdf) Selvage, in contrast, argues for the importance of experience in terms of completing volumes more quickly (see http://hnn.us/articles/60911.html). Ironically, Susser himself has acknowledged elsewhere the importance of experience for meeting the statutory requirement that FRUS constitute a “thorough, accurate, and reliable” documentary record of U.S. foreign policy. At the meeting of the Historical Advisory Committee on September 8-9, 2008, “William Burr from the National Security Archive asked if the planned number of volumes covering the Reagan administration have shifted at all. Susser replied that they have not yet, but that soon there should be a trip out to the Reagan library to check its holdings, after which there may be some changes. Burr said that 38 seemed like a low number, and Susser replied that the office has discussed this thoroughly, but that there are several factors (30-YEAR LINE, number of compilers and their clearances and EXPERIENCE, etc.) that limit the number of Reagan volumes the office could do.” (http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ho/adcom/mtgnts/113212.htm) In other words, Susser has already publicly conceded, in meeting minutes that he himself approved, that the past and ongoing loss of experience will impact the “thoroughness” of the coverage of the Reagan Administration and – implicitly – its successors. He also hinted at one likely step he will take to try to meet the 30-year line: limit the number of volumes – i.e., the “thoroughness” of coverage – for the Reagan years. Interestingly, in the same rebuttal of the HAC’s critical annual report, HO asserts: “A review of the publication schedule for the Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson administrations shows that volumes were published, on average, 33 years after the event. By cutting the delay down to 31 to 32 years—by the General Editor’s estimate—we are actually making progress toward reaching the 30-year line, rather than moving away from it.” This assertion directly contradicts the previous public testimony of former General Editor Ted Keefer. According to the HAC meeting minutes from June 2-3, 2008 – again, approved, by Susser – Keefer stated: “Thirty-three of the Nixon volumes remained to be published, and the average volume was published 34 years after the fact. The average Truman and Eisenhower volumes had been published after 33 years.” There is no mention here of “31 to 32 years” as HO claims. Indeed, Keefer also stated: “Only 3 Nixon-Ford volumes [out of 57, or 5.3%] had been published within the 30-year limit. In contrast, 30% of the Eisenhower volumes, 16% of the Kennedy volumes, and 34% of the Johnson volumes had met the 30-year limit.” (http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ho/adcom/mtgnts/109419.htm) Apparently, Susser change his mind about his own and Keefer’s previous statements only later, when he sought to rebut the criticisms in the HAC’s annual report.
So, if we examine the actual evidence, the arguments of neither “Anonymous” nor Susser himself hold water. The evidence of Susser’s mismanagement of the office consists of more than anonymous complaints in a sealed envelope; it includes statistical evidence regarding the retention of experienced staff; the signed testimony of the former General Editor, Edward C. Keefer; the now-public allegations regarding Susser’s treatment of a former employee, Craig Daigle; the public statement by another former employee, Douglas Selvage, calling on Hillary Clinton to take remedial action; Susser’s own public action in not re-inviting Tom Schwartz to serve on the HAC; Edward Rhodes’s resignation in protest at the said “purge” of Schwartz; and the HAC’s expressed lack of confidence in Susser and disapproval of his methods. So what is left? Only the now debunked claims of Susser, based on the previous statements of himself and Keefer to the HAC. We also have, of course, the alleged phone call by a member of Susser’s staff to Louis’s office, warning him that if he read his letter of resignation into the record of the December HAC meeting, “his career would be over,” and the name-calling and baseless accusations of “Anonymous.” Perhaps these constitute indirect evidence themselves of a pattern of behavior on the part of Susser and his supporters? Threatening – allegedly, of course – to “cut” an employee’s “fucking heart out”; allegedly “purging” a dissenting member from the advisory committee; allegedly attempting to intimidate the chairman of the advisory committee with a phone call; and apparent efforts by at least one of Susser’s supporters to allegedly savage the good name of Professor Louis in this blog and elsewhere – perhaps all this provides additional insight into why so many experienced employees have left the Historian’s Office?