The primary reason I am no longer a member of the MLA is that I firmly believe the organization is more concerned with preserving the preening lifestyles of its very few Haves than it is with fighting to save beleaguered fields from total corporatized extinction.
This is readily apparent in the simple fact that the most recent report from the task force on doctoral study seemed primarily concerned with cramming as many grad students as possible into watered-down Literary MBAs in order to, in the words of ten of my colleagues who recently published an op-ed in Inside Higher Ed, capitulate to the new demands of the Fortune 500 University.
In response to what I now believe was a fairly tame (all things considered) “report” on that report (meta-report) I published–along with my friend “Adjunct Nate Silver”–on this very blog, the MLA and its supporters went on a full-scale “counterattack” on both me and anyone who dared agree with my (personal, obviously biased) blog post in public. When my colleagues posted their op-ed on IHE–which said exactly the same things I did, only with a more acceptable tone–the MLA reacted with overly solicitous respect, alluding multiple times to how “intellectual” and appropriate said essay was (in comparison to, presumably, my more visceral response–which, let me say again, it’s not my fault if it spoke to people and they liked it).
During this weird kerfuffle, it was calmly explained to me that it was not the MLA report’s goal to address the adjunct crisis in the first place, so how dare I etc etc etc. And, besides, what can the MLA do in that respect anyway?!? Well, first of all, the very fact that the report did not concentrate first and foremost on the adjunct crisis is a large part of the problem to begin with.
And second of all, here are some things the MLA could vote to do, but chooses not to. Just off the top of my head (and these are top-of-my-head works in progress, but their hearts are in the right place), the MLA could vote to:
*Deny membership, entrance to the conference, and JIL and interviewing privileges to any faculty in any PhD-granting department that uses a given percentage more adjuncts than a certain acceptable amount, has a considerably worse PhD attrition rate than a given acceptable amount, pays adjuncts a given percentage less, treats NTT faculty worse, etc (insofar as governance, benefits, parking, office space, etc. is concerned).
*Immediately revise the arcane, elitist and ridiculous assessment procedure for submitted panels to the convention, which grant unaffiliated faculty, adjuncts and graduate students virtually no “points” and thus reinforce “meritocracy” standards to who gets to be heard that no longer apply, if they ever did.
If the labor crisis in academia actually affected the lives of the tippy-top in any discernible way, they might actually start caring, and fighting, and standing up to their administrators, instead of embracing plausible deniability, wringing hands, and continuing to claim there is nothing they can do. There is “nothing they can do” because they are not being hurt badly enough to understand that there is no choice but to do something.
I understand that this tiny blog post may complicate my tenuously-positive relationship with both the MLA and its biggest cheerleaders, but I need to put my (lack of) money where my very large mouth is.
Therefore, I hereby throw the entire weight of whatever this apparatus is behind the petition to nominate a brave group of right-thinking upstart non-tenure-track and allied tenured* faculty to the Executive Council of the Modern Language Association. I hereby found Rebecca Schuman’s SchuperPac for the Peaceful but Necessary Overthrow of the MLA Status Quo (working title), and, energy willing, hope to abuse Citizens United like a good American and make some soft-money YouTube ads (“The Rebecca Schuman SchuperPac for the Peaceful but Necessary Overthrow of the MLA Status Quo is solely responsible for the content of this message” has an amazing ring to it).
I would like this to be the most interesting MLA election in the history of MLA elections–because no matter what happens, the organization will know that there is a growing, disgruntled undercurrent of Modern Linguists who do not approve of the way things currently are.
*The first draft of this omitted the fact that several of our “first wave” of takeover candidates are, indeed, tenured. But they’re contingent IN MY HEART <3.