According to many colleagues, Assistant History Professor Hilton Root is a cutting-edge researcher whose scholarship abilities are world-renown within his profession. According to past students, Hilton Root is an inspiring educator who lectures on topics untouched by other University faculty and whose teaching consistently ranks above average. But, according to a recent History Department tenure vote, Hilton Root will be forced to leave the University in June 1992. In December, History Department faculty voted for the second time not to recommend tenure to Root, who has been an assistant professor for six-years and specializes in comparative European economic history. The negative tenure recommendation has mystified several colleagues who say they wonder what voting faculty used in their decision, whether it was from Root's confidential tenure file or in departmental meetings that preceded the vote. The decision has also disappointed several students who say they have developed close ties to the assistant professor and his unique brand of research, and feel the History Department has effectively eliminated both. The exact reasons for Root's tenure denial are obscured by a thick veil of confidentiality which prohibits History Department faculty and School of Arts and Sciences officials from revealing any details of Root's case. Root himself said he will not comment on the matter while he "pursues other avenues." Those avenues included a meeting with School of Arts and Sciences Dean Hugo Sonnenschein last week, and several students and faculty said they believe he will file a grievance with the University. The December vote was not the first time Root has been denied tenure in his six years at the University. Root first requested consideration for tenure two years ago and received a negative recommendation. Root's former students, who have followed his case since the first tenure vote, said there are several possible explanations. One possibility is that Root's research does not fall within the traditional domain of a history department but lies somewhere between economics and history. Another explanation is that Root, considered by some to be arrogant, may have had personality conflicts with members of the department. But former students place much of the blame on History Professor Lynn Hunt, who often studies the same subject area as Root but takes a different approach to it. They say Hunt created the opposition against Root, but are unable to offer first-hand evidence of this. The students say their conclusion is based on discussions with department faculty. They have also been in frequent contact with Root over the past two years. The students say Root could not have been denied tenure for any legitimate reason. According to the University's Faculty Policies and Procedures, the basis for University tenure decisions lie in the candidate's research and teaching performances, which are gleaned from a comprehensive dossier which includes outside evaluations and supporting statements. Colleagues and students say Hilton Root has excelled at both. · Though faculty generally consider teaching quality less important than research achievements when judging tenure cases, there is little question that teaching has been of primary importance in how students judge Root. Before coming to the University in 1985, Root taught at the California Institute of Technology and the University of Michigan. He has also taught courses in France and Belgium. Reviews of six of Root's classes published in the Undergraduate Course Guide over the past five years ranked Root as an instructor from 3.0 to 4.0 on a four point scale. Ratings for the courses themselves and their difficulty ranged from 2.2 to 3.8. College and Wharton senior Todd Rosentover is one of several students who is currently protesting Root's second tenure denial. Rosentover has known Root since his freshman year, when he took Root's class entitled "England and France Were Once Developing Nations Too." Rosentover's sophomore year coincided with Root's first tenure denial and he said last month he was extremely disappointed with the outcome. Rosentover remembers hearing rumors at the time that the decision was based on doubts about Root's teaching ability, so he decided to act on the rumors. "I pointed out that no undergraduates were consulted," Rosentover said. He and another student also began an extensive letter writing campaign to students who had previously taken Root's courses. The other student, first-year Wharton graduate student George Walker, said he regarded the rumored assertion that Root's classes were unpopular with students as a "smoke screen." "That's why we came up with the letter writing campaign," said Walker, who received his degree from Wharton's undergraduate division last year. "If you're going to attack the guy, you've got to come up with an argument that holds water, and that he's a poor teacher certainly doesn't." Walker said former students were surprisingly willing to write letters on Root's behalf, considering the fact that Root had not taught in the year prior to the tenure decision. According to Rosentover, at least twenty letters were presented to History Professor Drew Faust, a member of the committee which prepared Root's tenure file for the second vote. The committee was headed by History Professor Alan Kors and also included History Professor Moshe Levine. Faust said the letters were included in the file for the second tenure decision, and that the committee itself had also written letters to every student Root ever taught -- including graduate students advised by Root who were never in his classes. "We really tried to be scrupulously fair on all of this," Faust said. But Faust was unable to say what these letters said or what kind of feedback the committee received because of confidentiality regulations. · More important to Root's tenure decisions than his teaching, many faculty and administrators indicate, was his research -- both the quantity and quality of his writings and the prestige of the organizations that have printed them. Root's research credentials include two books and numerous articles, several of which have been nominated for awards. In 1986, Root won the Chester Higby Prize from the Modern European History Section of the American Historical Association for writing the best article published in the previous two years. The bulk of Root's research concerns peasant revolts in eighteenth century France. Applying economic principles to historical events, Root explained the revolts as the result of severe restrictions on agriculture and free markets within the society. Finding that peasants were forced by the upper classes governing society to sell their grain at artificially low prices, Root wrote that farmers decided it had become unproductive to raise crops for sale -- resulting in irate, starving peasants ready to fight against upper class rule. Students supporting Root say the nature and quality of this mix of economic and historical research has won Root admirers throughout the U.S. and Europe. Public Policy Assistant Professor Ed Campos, who collaborated with Root on a recent report, indicated that the research may even be more appreciated abroad than domestically. He said Root's work has often been translated into French and their collaborative report has been published in Italian. Campos said he has been impressed with Root's commitment to research. "I don't think many people have the patience or diligence," Campos said. Campos recalled Root returning from an annual summer research trip to France with material for their joint report -- as well as a back pain that kept him from sitting or standing for long periods of time. Campos said Root endured the unexpected ailment by lying on the floor of Campos's apartment for hours at a time as they "cranked out the article." Root's student Rosentover said one of Root's strengths in research is his reliance on primary sources. Rosentover pointed to an instance where Root physically "found" sixty French chateaus which other historians had long assumed were destroyed by peasant revolts. "What he's basing his things on are facts and not theory," Rosentover said. And Campos indicated that Root is only now entering the "prime of his career," with a "ton of research in first-rate publications" and a second book forthcoming. "He's clearly capable of producing first-rate work that economic historians can agree on," Campos said. · But not everyone seems to agree with Root's work. Several of Root's supporters maintain Root's History Department colleagues reached different conclusions than Root did. They say many department faculty pursue their studies from a Marxist perspective and have arrived at conflicting explanations for the rebellions of eighteenth century French peasants. While Root argues that the peasants rebelled against the results of market control by the upper classes, others take the position that the French peasants rebelled against the free markets themselves. Root was recruited by the University away from Cal Tech in 1985. History Professor Hunt, who students say spearheaded the campaign against Root, was recruited from the University of California at Berkeley shortly after Root. Students say she takes a view opposite to Root in many of the same areas of research. Hunt said last week that allegations of research conflicts do not have "any bearing at all on the situation," calling Root's area of research "interesting, valuable and useful." "The department never chooses between fields in making these decisions," Hunt said. Hunt said that while Root, herself, and History Professor Alan Kors have all studied eighteenth century French peasants in the past, she researched the political and cultural aspects of their society, while Root looked into the economic aspects and Kors probed the intellectual sphere.Comments powered by Disqus
Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The Daily Pennsylvanian.