Welcome to the Modern Language Association. As the MLA’s 2013–14 president, I would like to introduce myself and lay out some of the association’s future goals and current activities. If you are not already among our nearly 30,000 members, I urge you to consider joining the association. Graduate students, teachers, and scholars of modern languages and literatures need a strong professional organization that advocates the humanities and that vociferously defends the important work of higher education around the globe. As the largest professional humanities organization in North America, the MLA fulfills this role, and we need your participation.
Please take some time to explore the MLA Web site. With its dozens of features and hundreds of documents, the site offers a provocative map of many of the things that we do. The Web site provides visitors with access to the MLA Job Information List and to the program of the association’s annual convention. The convention is an intellectually exciting gathering of thousands of scholars who come together to discuss their research, meet friends and colleagues, and participate in vibrant conversations, both live and virtual, about theory and interpretation, teaching and learning. The Web site is also a portal to information about the MLA’s publications, such as the indispensable MLA International Bibliography, the premier scholarly and professional journals PMLA and Profession, the Approaches to Teaching World Literature book series, and the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers (including a direct link to the online Handbook for members). Also available on the site is an impressive archive of the numerous studies the MLA has undertaken on the academic job market, on employment practices at colleges and universities affecting tenure and promotion, and on the experiences and needs of non-tenure-track faculty members. The Report of the MLA Task Force on Evaluating Scholarship for Tenure and Promotion is but one useful example, as is the Academic Workforce Advocacy Kit, a collection of resources that can help users work toward improving our students’ and colleagues’ teaching and learning conditions. Visitors to the MLA Web site will also find a list of the committees that help carry out the association’s mission. Members, please note any of the committees in which you might like to participate, and nominate yourself to serve. We depend on and are grateful for the generous contributions of our colleagues.
Although always mindful of its 1883 charter “to promote study, criticism, and research in the more and less commonly taught modern languages and their literatures and to further the common interests of teachers of these subjects,” the MLA continues to evolve, keeping ahead of the many challenges our members face. The most exciting current venture is the newly launched MLA Commons, an innovative Web platform that will enable unprecedented possibilities for communication and collaboration among MLA members. The MLA Task Force on Graduate Education has been studying graduate curricula, and particularly the structure of the dissertation, to align graduate work more closely with the varied employment possibilities, inside and outside academia, that are open to our students. A recently formed working group is looking closely at the MLA divisions and discussion groups and at how we organize knowledge in our fields of inquiry. We aim to initiate a broad-based conversation about how the MLA’s structures might evolve to accommodate changing directions and foster new knowledge. Building on our already extensive international community, the MLA will also be renewing its efforts to think in even broader terms about effective ways to expand the association’s work beyond the borders of North America. Members will hear more in the coming year about each of these projects and the many other exciting initiatives I do not have space to mention here. I hope that by activating your account on the MLA Commons or by e-mailing me directly, you will also let us hear from you.
This is an especially critical time for our profession. Please stand with us in our commitment to defending the principles of academic freedom and fair and just employment practices. If you are dedicated to the projects of studying and teaching language and literature, if you are interested in fostering and developing the role of the humanities in the global public sphere, then you will benefit from being a part of the MLA. I am very much looking forward to meeting you on the MLA Commons or at the 2014 convention in Chicago and to hearing more about how the MLA can work most effectively on your behalf.