I have been bombarded with “Call to Action!” e-mail messages from various associations to which I belong. They all use exactly, and I mean exactly, the language of 1 of 2 versions of the same basic message, and there isn’t much difference between the 2 versions.

The amendment proposed by Sen Coburn to bill S.510 will cut off funding to an approved program, History Day. One version makes it clear that the earmarks that the amendment seeks to end are the ONLY source of the $500,000 in question. The message has gone viral, with the exception of the fact that the verbatim messages have come to me written in the first person from more officials than I can count on my fingers and toes. I find it very unlikely that more than 27 people (so far) in official government, nonprofit, and “professional” organizations (quote makes used because of the comparisons drawn in this blog between professions and professionals) should at different times hear of the same amendment, and have the same reaction, using exactly the same words.

Because none of these people ever include the wording of the bill or the amendment, and the link that is provided in one version does not link to the bill but to its place on the calendar, others just encourage that you contact every senator you can and link to the Senate’s page. I have seen no evidence that the amendment has even been read. I do read the comments on the blogs that post these same words and surmise that many of the comments are by people who either have not read it, are ignoring it, or do not understand it. Huffington post, for example, claims the amendment would “kill all congressionally directed spending for three years.”

Please note that I have problems with the bill. With the whole bill, not just the amendment. Yes, the amendment bans earmarks. It also defines just what it means by earmarks, which doesn’t coincide with what some of these messages and posts claim.

“The term ‘earmark’ means a provision or report language included primarily at the request of a Senator or Member of the House of Representatives providing, authorizing, or recommending a specific amount of discretionary budget authority, credit authority, or other spending authority for a contract, loan, loan guarantee, grant, loan authority, or other expenditure with or to an entity, or targeted to a specific State, locality or Congressional district, other than through a statutory or administrative formula-driven or competitive award process.”

Note: nowhere does it say that funds cannot be given to projects such as History Day. It just says they must be given through a normal budgetary process and not just because a specific Senator or House Member puts them there. Agreed, it would be unpleasant to go through a grant-writing type process for the funds, or have an individual bill passed that funded History Day on a regular basis without the earmark process (that would really be a bummer, having the money in statute where it couldn’t be easily touched,) or even, heaven forbid, find a private donor as do many universities, arts institutions, museums, etc. If History Day had an endowment, where would be the tragedy? No relying on the whims of Congress. These are a few ideas that pop into my head in the wee hours of the morning.

Support or don’t support the amendment or the whole bill as you wish, but do whatever you do with integrity, please. The problem I have with all this isn’t the amendment. It is the method and the propaganda used in the name of “professional advocacy.” The reason that I refer to this post in the title as a preview of a later installment, is that part of my paper on professionalism v. profession deals with integrity.

  • The initial and most frequent version of the e-mails I read and the posts I saw stated that earmarks were the only method that there was of obtaining the money for History Day.  This is just not the case. No alternatives were suggested or asked for. What was asked for was that thousands of thinking people jump into instant action of a political nature without any attempt to view the problem and try to think of a way to solve it. Only support for a specific political position would do. So get to it!
  • The politicization of this issue can be in posts and comments. The evil, politicians, Republicans-or-Democrats, moonbats, whatever, must be stopped because they are harming our children. No evidence, such as the language of the amendment and no discussion of possible results or alternatives, just quotes from the calls to action that may have been well meaning, but have now turned History Day and the students who participate into weapons to be used against “the enemy.”
  • Members of the archives, history and related professions passed on the messages in such a way that suggests that many, if not all had failed, to take the time to read they amendment (and bill) in question. In many cases they took the previous sender’s name off and added their own. When I was in school plagiarism was cause for dismissal, but I suspect this is not considered the case in the “real” world any more. I am particularly sad that 3 people that I sent links to the bill, which is, as one expects, long and boring, (the amendment is short, though,) e-mailed me back saying words to the effect that they did not have time or need to read the bill. I have always thought of these people as men and woman of integrity, but they were sending me the messages under the umbrella of “advocacy.”

Integrity is part of professionalism. (This is part of the paper I have begun to post here in part, so there will be more on this to come.) Advocacy is such a strong word in the professions that many have departments, committees, sections or round tables to promote it. Advocate for advocacy; I like that. But a professional advocates with integrity. He promotes his causes with truth, seeks to persuade, and if unsuccessful, tries to find another way. A member of a profession may maneuver, lie, tell half-truths, justify, etc. to advocate for what he believes; the ends justify the means. But this is not integrity, nor is it the mark of a true professional.

Anyway, that’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it.

The Heretic

The Heretic is the nom du plume of a historian and archivist who works with the public and in religious institutions. He has been accused by others in his professional world of “heresy” as a historian, archivist and Christian (not formally, of course.) He does not zealously guard his identity, but on occasion voices opinions that he feels might embarrass others. It is out of respect for those persons that he uses the pseudonym. When he is convinced that it no longer serves a purpose, he will discard it. It is really just in fun, anyway. Most people who know him recognize the source of his words, or so he believes.

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[I am putting the finishing touches on a paper I am writing for a seminar with a non-archives-related organization. As I started working on it, I realized that many parts of the work applied to the archives profession, at least applied to the point that they bear discussing. They also apply to the world of practicing professions or tasks in a religious environment, though the terminology might need to be changed. The subject is “Profession v. Professionalism.”  It is opinion based on experience and research. I will introduce parts of it here over time in hope of getting comments and discussion. I would prefer that folks comment online, even if you know my personal e-mail address or are attending the conference, but that is, of course, your option.]

I maintain that a person may be a member of a profession by meeting specific criteria. There may be differing opinions as to the criteria. For example, one might claim that a certain amount of education or a certification is required to be an archivist, while others might feel that any who fill the position of archivist and attempt to perform the tasks that come with that position in the best possible manner qualify as professionals. I have heard history professors make it very clear that academics are in a higher classification than a mere “profession,” (also claiming that a Ph.D. is required to be a historian and anyone who has done decades of scholarly work does not qualify as a historian without those letters at the end of his name, regardless of the quality of work,) while neurosurgeons readily refer to their “profession.” Regardless of the requirements or honor associated with the term, there are specific qualifications that a person must have or things one must have accomplished to be recognized as a professional by most people.

Professionalism, on the other hand, is an attitude, an approach. It may be equated with or include ethics, morals, etiquette, or a code of honor, or simply be expressed as attitude. It is a more intangible thing than a profession, and is judged by people by less objective qualifications. A professional code of ethics may add some objectivity to whether one is viewed as having professionalism, and violation of such a code usually can be said to qualify as unprofessional behavior, but one can still be unprofessional while technically remaining within the code. This is basically because such codes do not cover all possible areas of professional behavior, nor do they cover the motivation of the “professional.” If one does not believe that such an attitude is noticeable or that it affects a professional’s competency, one might as well forget about seeking professionalism and be satisfied with having a job.

I mentioned the attitude I have found among some academic historians. This is not the only profession where I have found this attitude, of course, nor is it universal among those of that profession, er, discipline. Two of my mentors, history professors both, encouraged me to become a public historian, one particularly emphasizing the field of archives management. He did so because I had spent many years doing research in institutions where I often encountered archivists who showed me no respect and exhibited egos that I felt far outweighed their abilities or common sense. That may have been arrogance on my part, but there were enough people out there among non-archivists that didn’t treat me like an idiot to make me feel that it was not. I just found that many of the people I met in the archives profession when I did research did not behave in what I felt to be a professional manner.

You see, one of the requirements of professionalism is respect. A professional, if he has any sense at all, acknowledges that if he is exceptional in his field, others may be exceptional in theirs as well. Unless he believes that there is a universal hierarchy where history professors outrank archivists who outrank mere researchers (including those who write the papers the professors use to teach and collect the papers the archivists eventually manage,) he must accept that his profession does not make him better than others. Yet I have had many a person who had no idea what I was researching decide how I should best pursue my work, or had a presentation criticized under the assumption I had not read the same material as the critic, and even had people who had never met me address me by my first name while requiring me to address them by some title.

My favorite instance of this was when a Certified Archivist was advising a patron and insisted on being addressed as “Ms.” while calling the patron John, as she had heard me do. She then proceeded to lecture him on the best book he needed to do his research, never once realizing that he held two PhDs and was the author of the work she was praising. She did not believe me when I told her. He just smiled, thanked her, and proceeded to do his work like the professional he was. If I had been as professional as he, I never would have told her of here faux pas. I yielded to temptation, however, and told her. I did mean it to give her the opportunity to discover that one can’t always make assumptions, particularly when those assumptions start with ones about one’s own importance, but her response was aggressive to say the least.

Respect in a profession can illustrated by the way a seaman treats an officer. When I was in the service a few generations ago, I was walking with a Chief Petty Officer one morning. A Lieutenant Junior Grade approached and the Chief and I snapped off salutes. The JG gave us a nod. A few minutes later, a Lieutenant Commander came by and as we saluted, I noticed the Chief was a bit snappier and he smartly said, “Good morning, Mr. Evans!” Commander Evans slowed, exchanged pleasantries, and asked to be introduced to me, a lowly seaman. Then we all went on our ways. I asked the Chief about it and he explained. “Lt. Barker is by the grace of God and Congress an officer and a gentleman. It is his job. You have to respect the job and the rank. Maybe one day he will do something as a man to earn my respect. Mr. Evans? He is a natural officer and a seaman. I don’t just mean he is skilled at seamanship. I mean he has the attitude of a seaman. Respect. Barker has a nice job. Evans is a professional.” [Note: obviously after many years this is not and exact quote, but the gist is there.]

Part of my conclusion: One can expect or even demand respectful actions when one is a member of a profession. A professional offers and earns respect by behavior and attitude. No respect? No professionalism. This, by the way, extends to employers, employees, colleagues and patrons.

[There is an absence of some context in this opinion piece. It might help the reader know that this is near the beginning of the second section of the paper and precedes a section on the importance of people in professional behavior.]

More to Come.

The Heretic