Please Support the NTT/Ally Takeover of the MLA

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.


27 thoughts on “Please Support the NTT/Ally Takeover of the MLA

      • Yeah, that’s what they do. Except for social media sniping, tweckling, and slander: They’ve basically ignored any scholar and her scholarship that has any different take on labor issues. They have an astonishingly shite bibliography on academic labor, ignoring just about every MLA/CCCC/NCTE member with credibility in the field. Their “workplace advocacy kit” is like something out of The Onion: You can’t believe it’s not parody. The worst part is the F*cking Waste of Highly Paid Staff Time this is. Feal should be on friendly tweeting terms with US Senators, not trying to win the hearts and minds of members. I mean, I’m sure it’s flattering to some to have her attention, but that’s a job for your aide. The $300K top staffer should be cultivating “decision makers” and other such disappointments to humanity.


  1. Not that it matters to anyone other than me – but after I made my comment on the IHE article, I realized that calling it ‘constructive’ might mistakenly be thought to contrast unfavorably with more visceral responses like yours. I fact meant the implied contrast to be with the original MLA report itself.


  2. I just want it on the record that Schuman said “Please” before launching this fireball. After 25 years in this profession, I remain astonished at how few people are willing to speak basic truths. When literary study finishes becoming a wax museum, Rebecca will have a special, particularly flattering tableau, wielding a keyboard like a Thor-hammer.


  3. I feel like one of the cool kids now that I finally got twitter-snarked by Feal. Did you see she said that only the tenured should have positions of authority because only they are “culturally” qualified?


      • She did. When I get situated with Internet in our new spot in Costa Rica I’ll Forward the twitter exchange. Really, tho, I think you give her too much credit. No she isn’t evil incarnate. I don’t really mind her salary. But she’s defending the status quo with all her tone deaf might.


      • Off topic, but where are you in CR? My husband and I spent part of a summer there in 2010 and it was amazing. Yes, there were some bugs (“some bugs,” lol). But we loved it so much.


  4. the adjunct crisis DOES impact those at the very very top: they have to mentor more students, teach more classes, and do more service (a.k.a. “work performed for free, sometimes for a university with a multi-billion dollar endowment who can certainly afford to pay for the work”) because the tenure lines are being replaced with adjuncts.

    Why aren’t tenured and TT professors going on strike for us, organizing for us, agitating for us? They cannot lose their jobs for doing so; we can.


  5. I much prefer contributing to a visceral reply. The IHE essay was OK, but too much Academic Concern Troll-ese for my taste.

    Do you have an official platform? How about adding this: Move the MLA office from Manhattan to St. Louis. Let’s have less of the members’ dues going to the most expensive office space in the U.S.


  6. Great to see this effort underway; I’m among those rejoining the MLA (at some cost; I have a decent academic salary, though, 12+ years in, it’s still less than that of my newest, least experienced, tenure-track colleague) specifically to support this effort.

    As to “what can I/we do?” — any department (or even any individual faculty member) can choose to redeploy tenured faculty from not-really-necessary graduate classes/programs to teaching the intro/core courses that adjuncts usually teach. Yes, the adjuncts who would otherwise teach those classes will have to find other work, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing in the long run (especially if the move also reduces the number of new Ph.D.s/potential adjuncts being produced). Nobody said fixing the problem was going to be painless, but re-focusing the time and attention of tenured faculty on teaching basic undergraduate courses — outside the major as well as inside — would be a start.

    If they want to find funding and do more research in lieu of teaching grad classes, that would be fine, too, but I don’t think the funding for that is available.


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