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Occupy the MLA

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There’s a debate among the legions of non-tenure track English and language faculty on whether to occupy the MLA this December in protest of their organization’s disinterest in addressing the massive employment problems for PhDs. They argue that the MLA holds real power over institutions and that schools will listen if the MLA takes an aggressive stance in support of contingent faculty.

I certainly support such an action, though I think occupying a few university administration buildings and state legislative sessions might get more at the root of the problem. Still, the MLA, like the American Historical Association in my field, is quite unresponsive to the needs of the contingent in no small part because they are organizations dominated by the those at the peak of the fields. These are people with Yale and Harvard PhDs who teach at top 20 institutions. What do they know about the realities out there for the newly minted PhD? Not a whole lot.

I am unfamiliar with any similar Occupy AHA movement afoot for this January. There are a couple of websites talking about it in a vague way. Jesse Lemisch has been pushing the needs of the contingent quite publicly and is on an AHA panel about it, but I’m not sure what a panel can really accomplish. Until these organizations allow contingent faculty into leadership positions and become an advocacy organization for their members, and until leading historians recognize that we as a profession have a responsibility toward those we allow into our PhDs programs to fight for their futures, it’s hard to see much concrete coming out of official sessions.

An active protest movement during the presidential banquet, now that would rock the boat in a potentially useful way.

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