Welcome to the Modern Language Association. As 2012–13 president of the MLA, I’d like to introduce you to who we are and what we do: if you’re already a member, please take some time to explore our Web site. And if you’re just visiting, please take some time to explore our Web site—and then please consider joining the association and contributing to our work.
The MLA Web site is much more extensive than you might realize at first; it contains dozens of features and hundreds of documents, information on the MLA’s gold-standard publications (and direct access for members to the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers
), and the MLA’s groundbreaking research surveys, policy statements, and guidelines. Under the tab marked Resources, if you click on Surveys, Reports, and Other Documents you’ll find an astonishing archive of the long-term work of the association, including but certainly not limited to advice on topics ranging from disability and hiring to evaluating translations as scholarship; recommendations on wages for full-time entry-level faculty members and part-time and full-time adjunct faculty members; the Report of the MLA Task Force on Evaluating Scholarship for Tenure and Promotion
; and detailed professional employment practices for non-tenure-track faculty members.
When we’re not researching and producing definitive studies of and for the profession, the MLA is a strong advocate for the study of the humanities, particularly the study of languages and literatures. In recent years we have taken the lead on matters of broad import to higher education at large, from the threat to academic freedom in the Supreme Court decision of Garcetti v. Ceballos, to the practice of “ideological exclusion” that denies visas to certain foreign scholars, to the overuse and exploitation of non-tenure-track faculty. I hope you will join us in promoting the study of the humanities and defending the principles of academic freedom. We could always use some help—particularly when it comes to publicizing and promulgating our recommendations regarding working conditions for members of the profession.
Founded in 1883, the MLA is chartered “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.” We are the largest professional organization of humanities scholars in North America. Most of our nearly 30,000 members are located in the United States and Canada, but there are healthy contingents of members from other countries as well: no matter where in the world you may be and no matter what language you study or speak, we welcome you to our international community. Many of our members hold academic positions at colleges or universities, and graduate students make up a large and lively group. A growing number of MLA members teach at community colleges, and we also have members who teach in high schools or who are independent scholars. Wherever your location and whatever your employment status, the MLA can be your organization if you are dedicated to the study of language and literature.
Scholars may know us best through the MLA International Bibliography
, which indexes scholarly publications on a staggering range of topics in literature and language; students may know us as the people who publish the handbook that advises them on how to handle citations in research papers; and much of the public associates us with our annual convention, a vibrant and intellectually exciting gathering of thousands of scholars, who present papers, seek jobs, (re)connect with colleagues, and continue our lifelong discussions (and arguments) about texts, interpretations, theories, and practices. I hope to meet you at the Boston convention in January 2013 and to continue (or begin) discussing the things that matter most to you about the study of language and literature.
Finally, you’re probably aware that these are not happy times for the study of the humanities. All too many people don’t see the point of what we do at the MLA or at our allied scholarly organizations, and, struggling in the throes of a long, austere recession, many of our students (graduate and undergraduate) are understandably anxious to know whether a degree in the humanities will allow them to repay their often burdensome student loans. In times like these we need to remember—and to remind our students, their parents, and elected officials—that our world desperately needs people who can read closely, who can write compellingly, and who can understand the centrality of reading and writing, teaching and learning, to the origins and development of human civilizations. If the projects of reading, writing, teaching, and learning are of interest to you, I hope you’ll join us.
President, Modern Language Association, 2012–13