Welcome to the Modern Language Association. As the MLA’s president for 2015–16, I would like to remark briefly on where we are today and where we are going in the near future. My membership has meant a great deal in my professional life, and sharing my understanding of this association with you is an important part of my work this year.
The MLA is the largest scholarly association in the world and a major force in the humanities in North America. Its two main activities are to sustain the intellectual and pedagogical work of its nearly 27,000 members and to advocate for better conditions for all of us (scholars, teachers, students, and more), in our profession and the broader humanities. While these aims may seem different from each other, they are really about helping you carry out all of your roles: as you seek a job, or write an article for publication, or prepare to teach an unfamiliar work, or speak to your dean about teaching loads or class sizes, the MLA has developed resources to support you.
We publish books and journals, produce the indispensable MLA International Bibliography, conduct research into working conditions in our industry, promulgate guidelines on a wide range of professional matters, and bring the community together once a year at the annual convention. We also intervene when members confront challenging professional conditions that have implications for the rest of the profession—say, when academic freedom is violated or teaching conditions are compromised. With a staff of about one hundred, the MLA aims to stay ahead of events in nearly every aspect of the humanities, and your support will keep it there.
Even the most seasoned members must refresh their view of the association from time to time. I urge you to explore both the MLA Web site and MLA Commons: the former is a gateway to our publications, the Job Information List and related professional guides, the impressive collection of materials on our advocacy for the workforce, and the dozens of committees through which members’ perspectives shape the association, while the latter is an innovative platform where members exchange ideas with one another.
What’s ahead? This is a time of unusual challenges in higher education, but the MLA’s elected officers, Executive Council, and staff remain encouraged that we can continue to make a difference in your professional experience every day. We’re undertaking a survey of the members to explore how to serve you better. The governance of the MLA is continually expanding to include a wider range of members on our various committees, and I encourage you to nominate yourself or others. We’re exploring different ways of putting the information we compile about the profession into your hands, helping you improve conditions in your workplace. We are working to expand our outreach to potential members in community colleges, K–12 schools, overseas institutions, and libraries. With partner institutions such as the University of California Humanities Research Institute, we’ll be finding new ways of staying connected to the entire population of PhDs in language and literature, not only those who found work in our profession. And the convention continues to evolve as we respond to advice from members on how to meet your needs.
Our size as an organization can sometimes seem to be a disadvantage—for instance, when the convention looks daunting to newcomers, or when we consult thoroughly on a hot issue. But our size is also our strength. We need everyone in the profession to stand with us as we work daily on your behalf, in ways seen and unseen. Please join or renew, urge your colleagues and graduate students to become members, and make your voice heard. As a start on a new (or enriched) membership experience, I look forward to hearing from you at firstname.lastname@example.org and seeing you at the 2016 convention in Austin.