From the President

Columns by Judith Butler

Forked path surrounded by trees

What Kind of Future?

Even before the pandemic it was difficult to address the problems facing our profession—to ensure the well-being of our graduate students, provide access to health care for adjuncts, offer job security for untenured faculty members, and strengthen contingent faculty members’ tenuous access to academic freedom. With the pandemic, these problems have only grown more acute as travel ceases, courses can no longer be held in person, university revenues diminish, and budget cutbacks begin. Frankly, it is a terrifying time for PhD students, who face the future as an ever-narrowing horizon. The world we know has drawn to a halt as its structures of power and exclusion start to expose their seams. The structures of racial and class inequality, for instance, that permeate our institutions have only become more visible and, for many, more difficult to deny. On the one hand are administrators eager to reopen the university precisely as it was to secure its revenues; on the other are those who wish to take this occasion to reflect on and reimagine the university as a public good, as a place where social inequalities can be addressed and overcome.

The Tasks Moving Forward

The crisis of the humanities is all around us, proclaimed by the popular press and suffered perhaps most acutely by our graduate students in their bones. On the one hand, we are tempted to emphasize just how bad it all is in order to wake up those colleagues and administrators who are going about their daily business without addressing the defunding and downsizing of the humanities, the rise in contingent labor, and the dim prospects of employment in humanities fields for our graduate students. On the other hand, we are now tasked with thinking about both our own teaching and research and our obligations to graduate students in new ways, developing an ethics of mentorship responsive to precarious times. Graduate programs now have to reckon with their obligations to students during a very bad job market, and it is all the more important that graduate students be mentored not only on how best to do research and write but also on how to think about and plot their futures. During a time of intense anxiety about the market for graduate students, it is all the more important to develop and abide by an ethical code of conduct that prohibits exploitation, including harassment. Such a code would also emphasize the support we owe graduate students, the attention we must give to their work, and the practical mentoring we should offer that is focused on how to find employment when the degree is finished.

From the President

Columns by Simon E. Gikandi

At the MLA Convention!

Originally published in the Winter 2019 MLA Newsletter The arrival of the MLA convention Program is something I have looked forward to... Read More...

From the President

Columns by Anne Ruggles Gere

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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