Slow dissolve: Manhattan, fifteen years ago. I walk a few blocks from my place on Third Street– next to an anarchist squat, across from the NuYorican Poets Cafe–to the headquarters of the Modern Language Association (MLA), then in Astor Place.
Inspired by a California law that set 75% as a minimum standard for classes that should be taught by a full-time stable faculty, even in its community colleges, we want MLA to establish educationally sound full-time/part-time ratios in the disciplines it represents.
We want the association to lobby for those standards with accreditation agencies and to urge the other big state governments like New York and Texas to follow California’s lead.
We want MLA to help California fulfill the promise of that law by lobbying for federal money to help fully fund it.
We want graduate-student representation on the governing committees of the association.
In short, we want MLA to stop promoting “alternate careers” for PhD holders, and to get busy doing the political work necessary to rebuild professorial jobs out of what’s been converted to shabby part-time work.
Franklin just stares at me. “But all of that is AAUP’s job,” she finally says.
Jump cut to grainy historical footage: a decade farther back, 1984. The MLA has traditionally been directed for a short term by a distinguished tenured faculty person, but the Executive Council now feels that the staffing crisis in the humanities–of which it has been aware since 1970–requires a full-time staffer at the helm.
A significant element in hiring Franklin for the job of director is the desire to have someone willing to devote their career to addressing the professional crisis represented by the accelerating permatemping of the faculty. Franklin represents herself as eagerly willing to do so.
Next: We Occupy the MLA
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