From the President

Columns by Anne Ruggles Gere

Re-visioning Textual Transactions

As I left for vacation in July, I tucked A Changing Major: The Report of the 2016–17 ADE Ad Hoc Committee on the English Major into my bag. Not exactly beach reading, I thought, but since my own department slipped from 567 majors in 2012 to 294 in 2018 and is projected to have only 184 majors by 2021, the report felt like a must-read. The Association of Departments of English, a project of the MLA, provides a network for departmental leaders, just as the Association of Departments of Foreign Languages does for chairs of language departments. Both the ADE and the ADFL have long led curricular thinking, and the ADE report on the major is no exception. ADE colleagues scanned departmental Web sites and conducted a survey of ADE-member English departments to create a detailed portrait of English majors.

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Rethinking Public Humanities

The term public humanities emerged shortly after the National Endowment for the Humanities was established in 1965. Initially, public humanities programs were the province of professionals outside the academy who led entities like state humanities councils and recruited academics who were willing to translate their scholarship for wider audiences. By the mid-1990s, academic humanists began creating their own mechanisms for engaging with wider publics.

Building Alliances

Talk with colleagues from another institution, and conversation often shifts to shared concerns about declining enrollments in classes, majors, and minors; smaller numbers of students learning languages other than English; and, especially, public attacks on the humanities. As a former high school English teacher, I think changes in the K–12 world contribute to these challenges. Public high school education has suffered deleterious changes in recent decades. Teachers are required to spend an appalling amount of time preparing students for, administering, and dealing with the fallout of standardized tests; students’ concepts of reading and writing have become correspondingly more reductive and instrumental; and budget cuts have eliminated many school programs that make the humanities visible and valuable to local communities.

From the President

Columns by Diana Taylor

When the Resolution Causes the Breach

This past year has been difficult and at times heartbreaking. In addition to the attacks on public education throughout the pre-K–12 system, our universities are under siege. The government is pulling back on its obligation to education, as evidenced most recently when Betsy DeVos argued that “we’ve done a disservice to young people for many years by suggesting that the only path to success as adults is through a four-year college or university” (qtd. in Harris). Several campuses have become the scene of intense struggles to define and defend an open democratic space.

From the President

Columns by K. Anthony Appiah

Taking Issue, Taking Stock

The Modern Language Association of America is a scholarly organization. Is it also a political one? Not in a straightforwardly partisan way: our legal status prohibits us from endorsing candidates for elected office. But on topics that are central to our mission and that we can address in a clear and unified voice, the MLA can make a contribution to the national conversation. Among the issues that the association has been concerned with are the growth of contingent labor and the decline of tenure in higher education; language study as an educational right; and, very broadly, a diminishment in support for the humanities. . . .

From the President

Columns by Roland Greene

Speaking for Interpretation

As our convention in Austin approaches, I’ve been reflecting on our profession as I have observed it from the vantage of president of the world’s largest scholarly organization. My three previous columns noted several of the important initiatives that the MLA has recently begun and will continue. . . .

From the President

Columns by Margaret Ferguson

Tense Conversations

A few weeks ago, my twin teenage daughters gave me a lesson in how to talk to Siri, the female ghost in my new smartphone. “Ask her a question,” said Marianne. I couldn’t think what to ask, so Christina intervened: “Tell her to make a joke.” Seeing that I still didn’t get it, Christina prompted Siri, and she responded with unnerving speed: “Past, Present, and Future met in a bar. It was tense.”

From the President

Columns by Marianne Hirsch

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