Dr. Ganter’s Report from MLA

Our own Dr Granville Ganter provides this report from the Delegate Assembling of the Modern Language Association, with interesting news on the changing shapes of the profession, the dissertation, and the job market:

Granville Ganter here reporting as a New York region Delegate Assembly member to the MLA (2011-2014). Appropriate for the Seattle home of Microsoft, there were over 30 panels on the digital revolution and its consequences for the content and methods of academy.  Four items of assembly news, and a brief summary of two discipline-related panels:

Delegate Assembly News:
—The next MLA in Boston, 2013, will be organized around the concept of Access: Access to Education, Disability Access, Open Access.
—MLA voted to modestly raise MLA dues over the next 3 years. The reason was that digitization of books has reduced the sale revenue that supports most of the MLA’s activities (dues are only about 13% of the budget). The Exec Comm is seeking alternative ways to cut costs and raise money but a small increase was necessary. Dues will rise from $25 to $28 a year over the next three years for students, and the increases will be slightly more for faculty.
—The Assembly discussed whether the current MLA disciplinary divisions like nation/period/genre structure were serving members needs, given the changes in the academy since 1974 when they were developed. Most speakers—if not all—admitted they did not themselves work from national/period frameworks but their hiring and teaching did. Notable exceptions were programs like Western Ontario’s, where they teach theme-oriented classes and hire faculty in “Music and Literature,” “Art History,” etc. MLA plans to study this issue further and report back. There was also a shorter discussion about new challenges to the scholarly journal in terms of open access and hardcopy. Many faculty said they typically used online access but liked access to hardcopies as well. This question will also be further studied in committee.
—The Assembly passed two resolutions (one supporting academic freedom; the other supporting peaceful protests vis Occupy & student debt) which will be passed to the membership for ratification. 
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Two panels stood out in terms of discussions we’ve been having in our English department meetings:      
           
One panel on Alternatives to the Dissertation (composed of scholars appointed by MLA to study the issue) asserted that the dissertation needs to be thought of as a mode of scholarly communication, rather than one of scholarly publication. (This change in terminology has already been adopted by the administrative renaming of MLA offices in New York). Sidonie Smith passionately asked students to take advantage of new media to produce the kind of project that excites them. She reported that of 167 surveyed doctoral programs, many offered alternatives to the monograph, such as producing critical editions of a text; digital projects; or a suite of linked essays. She noted that 6% of schools surveyed supported creative dissertations in prose or poetry, and that 28% of schools noted their students requested digital projects. Her principal complaint was that 46% of programs surveyed don’t provide specific descriptions about the content of dissertation projects at all, and made no reference to the diversity of forms or audiences that dissertation projects might have. With the exception of Richard Miller (Director of Writing at Rutgers), who argued that the “long argument” monograph was obsolete in the age of Twitter and Facebook, the panelists were talking about adding new possibilities to the monograph dissertation, not replacing it. Faculty and students interested in how to evaluate such new alternatives can consult new MLA standards available on their website.
Another panel on the CompRhet and the Market reported some basic statistics with good news for the comp-rhet folks: There are currently about 1000 English studies doctorates produced each year, and about 1000 full time jobs advertised. Of those, about 50% are tenure track. 30% of the jobs are in American literature; 30% are British; 30% are in Comp-Rhet. Annual placement in literature tenure-track jobs is in the 40% range; comp-rhet placement for tenure track jobs is in the 60% range. Given the across-the-board interest in new media, the panelists were surprised that more of those jobs have not appeared yet, but they suspected that the economy may have caused departments to hire conservatively.  
About Steve Mentz 650 Articles
I teach Shakespeare and early modern literature at St. John's in New York City.

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