From the Desk of Joy Connolly

The American Council of Learned Societies was founded to support the free circulation of knowledge, on the belief that deep understanding of human thought and action is a key part of creating a just and peaceful world. 

Over the past century, that commitment has not wavered. However, in the year since I began my service as president of ACLS, the need to examine long-held assumptions and expand our reach has become more clear and urgent. 

In September 2019, our statement on inclusive excellence declared: “The humanities and social sciences will not thrive unless they reflect the diversity of the experiences they seek to interpret.”

We continue to foster greater diversity within the academy by elevating perspectives that have traditionally been muted, and by embedding attention to equity and inclusion in all our practices, from our evaluation of grant and fellowship applications to our outreach to potential new member societies.

We are committed to doing more. 

In the coming year, ACLS will implement a holistic anti-racism agenda that will advance and inform our plans for the next four years, as stated in our Strategic Priorities. We aim to help dismantle the biases that persist within academia and our larger society, in an effort to mirror the more just and equitable world we wish to see.    

This agenda includes:

  1. Assessment – We are currently securing a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion consultant and convening an Advisory Group with representatives from various constituencies who will guide and improve our anti-racism action plan and programming. 
  2. Investment – At a time when new PhDs face the worst academic job market in a generation and faculty without tenure are navigating the stresses of remote work, we are directing our fellowship funds to those most vulnerable. This summer, ACLS introduced the Emerging Voices Fellowship program, aimed at supporting early career PhDs with year-long positions, with a call for nominations that focused on the voices most needed in the academy of today and the future, including members of underrepresented groups. We will share more news about our fellowship programs soon. 
  3. Practice – Recognizing the need to bring more perspectives into our discussions on fostering positive change, ACLS is hiring a Higher Education program officer to work with the learned societies and emerging scholars on ways to enhance our engagement with underrepresented and underrecognized groups in the academy. We are also in discussion with potential new member societies, colleges, and universities to help ensure our membership truly reflects the full diversity of scholars and key areas of study we support, and that the needs and concerns of Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Hispanic Serving Institutions, and tribal colleges are part of the conversations that guide our work. Additionally, we are enhancing our efforts to increase diversity in our applicant pools and grant and fellowship review panels to provide clearer paths of opportunity for those underrepresented within the academy, especially Black scholars and other scholars of color.
  4. Amplifying More Diverse Voices and Perspectives – In Fall 2020, we will introduce a public programming series highlighting scholarship by ACLS fellows on race and society, racial inequality, race and democracy, and ways to improve equity and inclusion in our world. We will also lift up work by past fellows on the LGBTQ+ experience and additional areas, and we will publicize efforts along these lines by our member societies. 

We know that there is more work to be done. We seek to make the most of the collective power of our community to drive positive, sustainable change within the academy.  Humanistic knowledge and perspectives are key to building a society that recognizes and respects all of its members.

We are deeply grateful to those who made philanthropic gifts to ACLS this year, which makes this work possible. 
We look forward to updating you on our actions soon. In the meantime, your insights are important to us. Please share your thoughts with us at

Joy Connolly