21 June 2000
To: Marc Brodsky, Executive Director
American Institute of Physics
One Physics Ellipse
College Park, Maryland 20740
Dear Dr. Brodsky:
We were dismayed to learn of the recent dismissal of Jeff Schmidt, who had been an articles editor at Physics Today magazine for over 19 years. As former employees of the magazine, we urge you to reconsider your decision.
As we understand it, Jeff was fired after the publication of his book, Disciplined Minds, and in particular after AIP managers heard about the book's opening lines: "This book is stolen. Written in part on stolen time, that is." According to Jeff's supervisor, Stephen Benka, this intentionally provocative statement proved that Jeff was not "fully engaged" at the magazine.
Under different circumstances, we might find some humor in the fact that Jeff's declaration, obviously made for dramatic effect, would create such a stir. But there's much more at stake here: you have chosen to deprive Jeff of his livelihood. We take deep exception to that.
Whether Jeff -- or, for that matter, anybody else at Physics Today -- was "fully engaged" is really immaterial. What counts, or what should count, is that Jeff did his work for the magazine, and AIP invariably gave him above-average or satisfactory ratings in his performance reviews. Your recent discovery that Jeff used his spare time for critical writing, rather than surfing the Net, exchanging personal e-mail, or other common diversions, shouldn't be cause for punitive action. It's also worth noting that the use of one's spare time at the office to work on a book is a time-honored tradition among journalists. Indeed, many employers encourage it, recognizing that it boosts the professional standing of their employees and enhances the reputation of the organization.
We have all worked with Jeff, and we know him to be a talented and conscientious editor. While at Physics Today, we benefited from his camaraderie, support, and good ideas. Authors who worked with Jeff, as well as PT staff members themselves, will tell you that Jeff performed his duties with admirable skill and efficiency. He is a clear, careful journalist, and he has a deep interest in physics and in the social issues surrounding it. What is more, he worked hard to improve the work environment at the magazine. Physics Today has been a better place for his presence.
It is our strong belief that you erred in firing Jeff. We therefore urge you to give him his job back.