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. What, for example, are the limits of free speech and who gets to decide what it means? The human and political costs of these new culture wars are staggering. The images of young white men holding torches and shouting racist and anti-Semitic taunts at the white-supremacist, neo-Nazi rally at the University of Virginia, in Charlottesville, sent shock waves throughout the United States and the world. Shortly thereafter, the current administration targeted our students by rescinding the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA. The economic costs are also enormous. The University of California, Berkeley, has allocated $600,000 on security for an on-campus talk by a conservative political commentator (Yudof and Waltzer). The University of Florida spent a comparable amount on security costs surrounding a recent speech by a white supremacist. That money, arguably, could have been spent on financial aid for students and on the creation of more tenure-track faculty lines.
Protest in support of the arts and humanities

#States of Insecurity

This year’s presidential theme, #States of Insecurity, pressed itself upon me late last year. It urges us to reflect on how our intellectual, artistic, and pedagogical work helps us confront the grave issues facing our profession(s). What strategies, it asks, do the humanities offer for navigating our current crises: political volatility, fluctuating financial markets, fear-mongering media, and increasingly hateful acts and rhetoric that contribute to a general sense of malaise?

Becoming WE

I remember the moment it occurred to me that I might want to assume a leadership position in the MLA. For the association’s 2014 convention, Marianne Hirsch organized her presidential forum around the topic of vulnerability. I spoke of Subcomandante Marcos and the Zapatistas, who had been rebelling against the Mexican government and had, over more than twenty years of resistance, developed a notion of a world in which there is room for many worlds. I are WE, one Zapatista mural declared. This political construction of the WE did not signal conformity of opinion, background, or belief. But it did underline the awareness that WE are in this together. The urgent problems they faced—discrimination, violence, inequality before the law, conditions of extreme precarity—called them to acknowledge themselves as a collectivity composed of individuals determined to struggle together for justice. Their WE, rather than a shared identity or worldview, reflected a strategic linking up to defend the issues they care about. I looked up and asked the MLA members in the room: When will we become a WE?

Inside/Outside: Un-disciplining Disciplines

An undisciplined student, impatient with my high school classes at the British school in Mexico City, I used to jump over the fence a few times a week after roll call and walk home. I’d throw off my tie and blazer (the outward signs of colonial submission) and set about to learn in my own haphazard fashion. I loved Shakespeare but also the Mexican comic and philosopher Cantinflas. When I graduated from high school it was because Dios es grande (God is great), as people say in Mexico, and, as important, because students in the British system had to pass the General Certificate of Education administered out of the University of London. The exams were graded in London, where no one cared if I had jumped over the fence to escape school. I passed: five Ordinary Levels and two Advanced Levels, in literature and history. Not brilliant, but it got me into college, where I learned to navigate the system enough to develop my skills and focus my passions. . . .

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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