Reprinted from the Fall 2010 MLA Newsletter
The 2011 MLA convention starts on the Christian holiday known in English as the Feast of the Epiphany (6 January), and I can promise you that there will be a cornucopia of offerings intended to spark secular revelations about the hard times we are enduring in academia. As the “Report on the MLA Job Information List
, 2009–10” shows, hiring in English and other languages dropped sharply for the second year in a row (see www.mla.org
). Not only that, there was a noticeable decline in the percentage of tenure-track positions listed. As I write these words, we don’t yet know what the trend for 2010–11 will be, but most people think that the recent further tightening of the decades-long scarcity of tenure-track jobs in relation to qualified candidates will plague us for many years. In response to these and other compelling workplace issues, the Program Committee, with the Executive Council’s support, has designated the first day of the Los Angeles convention as a focal point for a series of panels and workshops on the theme The Academy in Hard Times that will offer attendees insights on the situation and strategies for effective action.
Given the number of sessions we must schedule from 6 to 9 January (over 800), it would be impossible to devote an entire day exclusively to one topic without depriving divisions, discussion groups, and special-session leaders of their right to participate in the convention. Sessions (over two dozen) on The Academy in Hard Times will be held in the regular time slots that run from noon to 6:30 p.m. on the first day. Only one session, however, will occupy the final time slot (7:00–8:15 p.m.) so all can attend. Second vice president Michael Bérubé will preside, and speakers include Barbara Bowen, president of the Professional Staff Congress, the City University of New York’s faculty union; Reed Way Dasenbrock, vice provost at the University of Hawai‘i, with experience as a New Mexico cabinet secretary in charge of higher education; Monica Jacobe, a member of the Committee on the Status of Graduate Students in the Profession and former research fellow at the American Association of University Professors (AAUP); Christopher Newfield, author of Unmaking the Public University
; Gary Rhoades, the general secretary of the AAUP; and Richard Alan Yarborough, a professor of English and instructor, mentor, and researcher with the Summer Humanities Institute for Students from Historically Black Colleges and Universities at the University of California, Los Angeles. These distinguished panelists will lead a discussion on the roots of the current situation, the specific manifestations of the problems we face, and the actions we must take if we expect the academy to emerge in recognizable shape from these hard times.
Many members responded to the call to participate in The Academy in Hard Times, and I am impressed with the diversity of the topics. Attendees can choose from sessions on academic freedom, writing programs, improving non-tenure-track positions, protesting higher education cutbacks, labor in the digital humanities, German in the life of the university, unions in academe, issues facing British universities, program elimination, publishing, social networking, and strategies for the new normal in higher education. Those who attend the convention can use Twitter
(as I will) to discuss The Academy in Hard Times sessions with others both on-site and far away.
The Feast of the Epiphany is el Día de los Reyes in Spain, a holiday when children eagerly await gifts from the Three Kings (or the Magi). On 6 January at the MLA convention the offerings will be of a different genre, and there will be nothing infantile, royal, or magical about them. The Academy in Hard Times will bring us together for serious reflection and a commitment to action, and I hope you will participate. If we pay attention and take heed, the first day of the convention could make wiser men and women of all of us.