History professor William Lee Blackwood has not been known for keeping a low profile.
But after a maelstrom of controversy surrounded the History Department’s decision not to renew his contract last year, Blackwood has researched quietly at Yale while on leave this year and will teach a summer session class before departing from the University.
“I’m sorry to be leaving,” Blackwood said. “At the same time, I’m relieved that the controversy has abated.”
Blackwood said he hopes to go to Krakow, Poland, next year as a Fulbright lecturer, although he will not hear until later this month about whether his plans are definite. He declined to talk about his plans following next year.
Timothy Snyder, a Harvard University postdoctoral fellow, will come next year to replace Blackwood. Both academics specialize in East European history.
“We will miss Lee,” history director of undergraduate studies Paul Freedman said. “[But] we look forward to Tim Snyder coming.”
Blackwood has been on leave this year after agreeing with Yale to pursue research and not teach his classes, although they had originally been listed in the Yale College Programs of Study.
He said he has been working on research including a book, “Socialism and International Politics in Europe, 1918-1938,” although he said he is not sure when the book will be completed.
This summer, he will teach a course on “Europe between the Two World Wars, 1918-1939.”
“I’ve been teaching this summer class for some time,” Blackwood said.
Blackwood is teaching the class despite his past confrontations with the History Department, but Provost Alison Richard, Yale’s chief academic and financial officer, said summer hirings are not checked with the individual departments.
Blackwood was the center of controversy last spring after the History Department’s senior faculty voted in February not to renew his contract.
The reasons given at the time for the vote included the faculty’s belief that his doctoral thesis did not have great potential as a published book and the faculty’s concerns over his “professional service and performance within the department and the University.”
Blackwood reacted by attacking the tenure policy of the History Department as well as personally criticizing top history professors. Students circulated a petition in the hopes of reversing the decision about the popular young professor.
That effort and an appeal to Richard both proved unsuccessful, and a summer of cooling off left the controversial issue calmer as Blackwood prepares to leave.
“He’s been a very fine teacher at Yale,” Richard said.
Blackwood said he has no regrets about his time at Yale, although he has missed teaching this year.
And though he once fought hard to maintain his place here in New Haven, he now said he did not know if he ever could envision a scenario wherein he would return to Yale.
“It’s impossible to speculate on stuff like that,” Blackwood said.
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