Dear AJS Members,
We are writing with important information regarding a change in leadership at the AJS.
Below you will find a letter of resignation from AJS President, Noam Pianko, which we are sharing at his request. In accordance with Article VI, section 4 of the AJS by-laws, the Vice President for Membership, Jeffrey Shoulson, has assumed the duties of the President and will serve out the remainder of this term, which concludes in December.
We wish to acknowledge Noam and thank him for his extensive and dedicated service to the association, in which he has been an active member for many years, a member of the general board, and served ably as Vice President for Programming before becoming President. The AJS has been strengthened under Noam’s leadership despite numerous challenges over the last several years, including a full year under pandemic conditions.
Dear AJS Executive Committee,
I write today to tender my resignation as AJS President, effective immediately.
As I shared with the board last week, I met on March 11th with Steven M. Cohen, Jack Wertheimer, Steven Bayme, and Sylvia Barack Fishman in a hour-long Zoom conversation to discuss a short paper they shared with me in my area of academic research. As a scholar and an individual member of AJS, I believe strongly in upholding our mission-centric value of academic and intellectual freedom including our commitment not to regulate the intellectual association of its members.
However, I have now come to understand that although I violated no AJS policy, my role as President of AJS necessitated a different set of obligations and standards than other members of the organization. Accepting this meeting invitation was a mistake.
Over the last two weeks, I have listened carefully to colleagues who have made public statements and with those who have shared their perspectives with me privately. I am grateful to the Women’s Caucus for their clear articulation of the implications of such a series of meetings.
I want to apologize publicly for my lapse in judgment in participating in this meeting. In my leadership capacity as AJS President, I should have recognized the power dynamics at play and realized the ways that my personal involvement, regardless of my own intention, would reflect on our organization. I sincerely apologize, as well, for the many ripple effects of my action in our AJS community, and particularly the ways in which this affected those members who have been previously harmed by abuses of power.
I stand in strong support of the Executive Committee’s statement on this issue. Some AJS members have asked why my name did not appear on the statement. The answer is that I had already discussed my involvement with the Executive Committee, and we mutually agreed on a voluntary recusal so that the statement could be drafted with as much integrity as possible. Had the terms of recusal permitted me to sign their statement upon its issuance, I would have.
Over recent years, the AJS – like many professional organizations – has come a long way in creating policies and procedures around sexual misconduct, in an effort to create a safer space for all. However, the questions we have been dealing with over the last few weeks – not about the sexual misconduct itself, but about the grey areas and the boundary questions created in its wake – are far more difficult to define and adjudicate. Here, we are still very much at the beginning of our work, of figuring out the real-world applications and implications of our own policies. I am confident that the AJS community is strong enough to hold these difficult conversations, debates and good-faith disagreements, as we strive to answer many of the hard questions that have emerged in these recent weeks.
Having listened to the discussion of the full AJS board, it is clear to me that my error in judgment last month makes me the wrong person to lead the organization forward in this work right now. Remaining in a leadership role would make the next step in this conversation about me, rather than about the many important, related topics our organization should be discussing.
As I step away from this leadership position, I want to sincerely thank Warren, the AJS staff, and the Executive Committee members who give so much time and energy to the AJS. I recognize that my actions created a tremendous amount of extra work for them over these recent weeks, and I regret that my resignation will place additional burdens on this extraordinary group of individuals. However, I am confident that they are the right ones to lead the AJS forward through this moment. In addition, as sad as I am to exit this post early, I also feel strongly that by stepping aside now, I am doing what is in the long-term best interest of the organization.
Thank you for the opportunity to serve the AJS community, and for accepting my resignation.
Noam F. Pianko