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MLA out of Iraq

Last week I ended a post with the thrilling question, does the Modern Language Association have the authority to call for the withdrawal of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan? I know the suspense has been excruciating for many of you, so before too much more time passes, I thought I should let you know that for now, the short answer (as determined by the MLA Executive Council in February 2004) is no.

The longer answer is that one of my more odious tasks at this year’s convention (one for which I volunteered, actually) involved reporting to the Delegate Assembly that the antiwar resolution they’d passed in 2003 was rejected by the Executive Council.  The resolution called on the MLA to urge “the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan and Iraq and reallocation of funds to reverse inattention to, and grave deficits in, funding of education and other human services.” One of the reasons the task was odious, of course, is that no one on the Executive Council (to my knowledge) would actually oppose taking some of the $150-billion-or-so we’ve spent on the occupation of Iraq, say, and diverting it to education and “other human services” (presuming, of course, that those “other human services” actually serviced other humans).  And, as I explained to the Delegate Assembly, the Council was not unanimous about this; we had a long and energetic discussion, the details of which I can’t divulge (your loss, I’m sure!) but the results of which are a matter of public record (you can consult PMLA 119.5 [October 2004], p. 1392, if you have it handy).

So I got up and said something like this:  there seem to be some misunderstandings floating around concerning the things that nonprofit organizations like the MLA can and can’t do.  Some people speak as if we have the power, as literature professors, to end the war; others speak as if we will be stripped of our nonprofit status the minute we open our mouths on a “political” issue.  Well, we don’t and we won’t.  The Executive Council has no qualms about taking action on political matters that fall within the mission of the Association; we approved the Assembly’s 2003 resolution to repeal the Patriot Act, and, acting on our own, drafted a three-page letter in February (the text of which can be found at PMLA 119.5 [October 2004], pp. 1388, 1390) urging the Senate to reject H.R. 3077, a bill which passed the House unanimously in October 2003 and which would create a politically-appointed “advisory board” for international-studies programs that would oversee and monitor the “activities” (undefined!  deliberately so!) of all grant recipients under Title VI of the Higher Education Act of 1958.  We sent that letter to all 100 members of the Senate, and when the MLA joined with the National Humanities Alliance to lobby the Senate directly, we focused on the members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, out of which the bill would come to the floor (though, thankfully, it never did-- at least not this time around).  Finally, late this summer we authorized then-president Robert Scholes to draft a letter to Colin Powell, protesting the State Department’s stupid-ass (my word, not Bob’s) denial of visas to sixty Cuban scholars who sought to attend the Latin American Studies Association conference in Las Vegas and the American Studies Association conference in Atlanta.

In other words, I concluded, when the issue at hand involves students and scholars of language and literature, we have a good deal of latitude, and the Council sees no problems with speaking out directly.  What we can’t do, according to our constitution ("the object of the association shall be to promote study, criticism, and research in the more and less commonly taught modern languages and their literatures and to further the common interests of teachers of these subjects"), is to call for the withdrawal of troops.  Or, for that matter, for their redeployment to North Korea, should the mood strike us.

Well, reactions were more or less mixed, but this little speech didn’t go down at all with some people, who counterargued that insofar as our students are being recruited by the armed forces and shipped off to Iraq, “our common interests” include the protection of their interests.  At the time, not wanting to get into a pointless argument about a decision that already been made, I didn’t get back up before the Assembly and point out that the resolution actually said nothing about such students (it quite plausibly could have, in which case it would have been another resolution altogether).  But nonetheless, I wondered:  would the same principle hold if my students were going into the construction business?  Would the MLA thereby be empowered to comment on building codes and zoning laws?

Beyond that, of course, there’s the question of why anyone would appeal to the MLA to oppose the war in the first place.  Many of us individually-- myself included-- have opposed the war in Iraq since its latest version was first hatched, either sometime on the late morning of September 11, 2001 or perhaps somewhere between November and December 2000.  But I tend to think that organizations like the MLA really aren’t very good vehicles for antiwar activism.  To put this another way, they’re not well set up for opposing wars (either in their constitutions or their forms of organization).  It’s not a question of whether an MLA resolution urging the withdrawal of troops would actually have any effect (it’s a fun game, which everyone can play at home, to mock the idea that Rumsfeld and Cheney are even paying attention to us, or perhaps, even worse, drafting counter-resolutions condemning the MLA); I see nothing wrong with scholarly organizations taking political positions on matters that concern them.  (The American Library Association’s call for repeal of Section 215 of the Patriot Act is a model example, and more power to ‘em.) And I understand, or think I understand, the symbolic politics of speaking through one’s disciplinary organization.  But I’m curious about what other people think about this-- both about the question of the scope of MLA resolutions (for those of you who care), and the question of withdrawing troops from Iraq and Afghanistan (might as well open the floor on the larger question as well!).  I’ll be gone for a week, but checking back in from a remote undisclosed location, so until then, over to you, folks.

In the meantime, let me just add that the final fifteen minutes of Finding Neverland are maudlin beyond human endurance, except perhaps in the case of Janet, who would happily watch a two-hour documentary involving Johnny Depp eating oatmeal.  See you next Tuesday with more capsule movie reviews!

Posted by on 01/11 at 03:56 PM
  1. I paid you $240,000, and this is all I get? Oh, and Arnold wants to buy the rights to your concept of Depp eating oatmeal, only, get this, we cast against type with--yes, Arnold! And Arnold shoots a lot of people, blows stuff up, and has some great one liners! Best of all, he sounds about the same with a mouthful of mush!

    Posted by  on  01/11  at  09:21 PM
  2. Hmmm.  I am thinking you need to join up with that famous Minnesotan, Garrison.  He also hammers away at the magical powers of English majors; and with nearly as much grace and style as you, Michael.

    The methodology and effectiveness of the MLA’s antiwar efforts reminds me much of similar activites engaged in by my ‘fellow travelers’ (or whatever the authorities were calling us then) in the fine burg of Eugene, OR.  Since those who preceeded us had already managed to force the US out of Vietnam by marching in the streets and discomfiting the local ROTC, we were left making various proclamations regarding saving nuclear whales in Nicaragua. Reagan and Ollie would have shrugged us off if they had only known of our earnest efforts to live up to the standards of our forebears.

    Of this I am sure, if lively, ironic prose were an effective military deterent then one Berube’ post would usher in a millenia of peace and goodwill.

    Posted by  on  01/11  at  09:30 PM
  3. My wife works as a schoolteacher in the Oakland Unified School District. A couple years back, a faction within the teachers’ union decided to push a resolution calling for the release of Mumia Abu-Jamal.

    They spent a huge amount of time at union meetings, from shop level to district-wide, debating the issue as hideous financial mismanagement ate away at the district and a wave of street violence picked off students one by one.

    My thought at the time was that if you took someone off the street and asked them what the OTA’s position was on freeing Abu-Jamal, most people familiar with his case would likely assume the OTA wanted him free. So why bother wasting precious meeting time when there’s other stuff to work on where some difference might be made?

    I see no reason that this standard could not be applied to the matter of the anxiously awaited MLA position on the war against Iraq. Personally, I’d happily assume the MLA opposes mass murder from the air. How about using that meeting time to hammer out a position on the national fiscal crisis and its impact on public library budgets? What future has macademia when no child can read?

    Posted by Chris Clarke  on  01/11  at  10:07 PM
  4. Chris, nice to see your fine work here in the literary world, however is my vocabulary lacking or is this an advertisement for a new Apple University

    ‘What future has macademia when no child can read?’

    I do recall being shouted down once when I suggested that the opinions of all the leftists in Eugene would do nothing to change Nicaragua,(assuming the obvious opinion could be translated to an acceptable document approved by the punctuation and policy subcommittee), but some might like to know what the plan was for dealing with the budget crisis at UO which not cooincidentally was the city’s largest employer.

    Berube’s wit is sharper because his words are snuggled right up against the truth of our silliness.

    Posted by  on  01/11  at  11:45 PM
  5. The problem with Neverland is not that the script is maudlin; it’s that the acting is not up to the challenge of making this intensely sentimental material sufficiently moving.  Depp is wholly unpersuasive, both as a man in love with childhood and as a morally upright lover; Winslett’s decorous descent into death is hilariously antiquated; the child Peter always seems to be attending to a coach just off-screen.  Because the artifice is always visible the sentimentality is annoying instead of heart-wrenching.

    Posted by  on  01/11  at  11:50 PM
  6. Michael,

    With you, I doubt the MLA’s position on the war in Iraq will have any effect whatsoever on the progress of the war.  This administration doesn’t seem to read, so I doubt they would care much about what an organization devoted to reading said about their little war. 

    Nevertheless, *that* is not necessarily an argument against the MLA adopting the resolution.  Before the war, I attended all sorts of anti-war demonstrations that I knew would have no effect whatsoever, but I attended them all the same out of some existential or symbolic responsibility.  No one knows what got us into this war; we can’t know what will get us out. 

    Finally, not to mince words, I think you’re just plain wrong about the MLA constitution.  The war has diverted resources from higher education, and that affects the MLA’s mission to “promote study, criticism, and research in the more and less commonly taught modern languages and their literatures and to further the common interests of teachers of these subjects.” You know as well as I do what falling state revenues have done to public institutions of higher learning, not least of which is the rise in tuition.  The administration could distribute funds to the states, but they don’t. Federally, too, Bush has lowered Pell grants, which directly affects students or potential students, and one can’t help but feel that there is a connection between those budgetary decisions and the billions of dollars devoted to the war. 

    In other words, I would hope the MLA would speak up about building codes and zoning laws.  What if those codes and laws outlawed building or expanding libraries on campus?  Is the war any different?  Isn’t it affecting what the teachers and scholars can and cannot do on campus?

    Posted by  on  01/12  at  09:15 AM
  7. Mike, while I sympathize with your opinion and your politics, I’m afraid that, by your logic, the MLA would be justified in passing resolutions supporting or objecting just about anything. Decrying the lack of federal and state support for higher education is one thing, but claiming authority to pass hypothetical resolutions that criticize, say, the no-bid awarding of military contracts, bailouts of the airline industry, or ill-advised wars because those mismanaged funds *could* have been earmarked for higher education is a rather desperate attempt to stretch the defined boundaries and responsibilities of the MLA. I’m not saying that the political position is wrong - I’m just saying it’s disingenuous and wrong to argue that position under the aegis of the MLA.

    In the long run, I think resolutions like the aborted anti-war resolution only hurt the MLA because (a) the people making these particular decisions that are protested by the MLA couldn’t give a rat’s ass about the MLA, and (b) when the MLA *does* pick a fight that falls on its own turf (like it’s lobbying against the Patriot Act, or resistance to Horowitz’s Orwellian “Academic Bill of Rights"), it’s easier for those who disagree with the MLA to pull the Reaganesque “There you go again...You silly liberal professors, always complaining about something that you know nothing about.”

    Posted by  on  01/12  at  10:03 AM
  8. Chris: What future has macademia when no child can read?

    Chris, that proposal is just plain nuts.

    Posted by  on  01/12  at  10:50 AM
  9. Mike Donlin,

    Yes, the administration has taken a lot of money out of education. But don’t you think they would have done that even without the war? They are Republicans; their religion is to cut taxes. The first federal expenditure to get cut is always education, while the last is always defense.

    They are cutting weakening the fabric of American higher education because they just don’t care very much about it.

    The Delegate resolution should have protested the cutting of Pell grants, the cutting of budget allotments to the states, etc., not the war itself.

    Unrelated question: Did the delegate assembly take up the issue of the new, post-9/11 visa regulations that are making it harder for international students to study in the U.S.? This is devastating for universities that rely heavily on tuition from foreign students (like American University in Washington DC).

    Posted by Amardeep  on  01/12  at  10:59 AM
  10. First, apologies to Michael. I shouldn’t have written “just plain wrong.” You’re not, of course, but I do disagree with the position.  Anyhow, sorry. 

    That said, I think there’s an enormous difference--in scale, in cash, in bodies, in the motivation of the MLA to do anything about it--between “no-bid awarding of military contracts, bailouts of the airline industry” and our “ill-advised wars.” I don’t think the MLA needs to get caught up in debates about capital gains taxes, but when something as enormous and enormously destructive as this war comes along, whether to countries or to institutions of higher education, then if its members decide to pass a resolution against it, I believe they have every right to.

    And sure, the Republicans have never been friends to public education, but should they then just pass a resolution against the Republican party?  I’m not sure that would help shore up their non-profit status.  So if they passed a resolution against cutting pell grants and general federal stinginess, it would seem they would have to anticipate the argument of where the money to correct those cuts would come from.  Why be coy about it?

    Posted by  on  01/12  at  11:33 AM
  11. I doubt that the MLA (or any professional organization) can influence the conduct of the current war. I recommend starting your own war first. The MLA can declare war on the MAA (Mathematical Association of America). After that you can issue resolutions to your heart’s content. ( unless you immediately get your asses kicked by the Math dweebs).

    Posted by  on  01/12  at  11:56 AM
  12. "Stupid-ass (my word”

    I’m struck by how much dumber this sounds than “dumb-ass.” Which ass, I wonder, is responsible for all the weak-ass shit (say, MLA resolutions that fall short of calling for an immediate end to global warming and a boycott of all corporations everywhere)? Does anyone give a rat’s ass about this shit except me?

    Posted by Dave  on  01/12  at  12:00 PM
  13. (And who should edge me out but a warmonger with a hunger for ass-kicking!)

    Posted by Dave  on  01/12  at  12:04 PM
  14. The MAA would shell the crap out of MLA strongholds, as even the rank-and-file grunts would be able to calculate trajectories on the fly. But the MLA would prevail in the long run through the use of stirring and effective propaganda, such as the broadsheet On What Does The Spectacle Hinge? MAA Dweebocrats Say “Duct Tape”.

    Posted by Chris Clarke  on  01/12  at  12:11 PM
  15. Because organizations like the MLA are by nature and necessity reactive entities, they operate best and are most effective when their official actions are contained to a narrow set of ideals and interests. I would argue, therefore, that it’s actually not in the MLA’s best interest to issue a resolution against the war in Iraq. As Brian points out, such a resolution is too easily dismissed by those outside the field. And it would give Republicans something in print to use in their inevitable assault against the “liberal takeover of American higher education,” which (call me paranoid) I’m convinced is creeping up their long list of issues to distract the public from America’s dwindling fortunes in Iraq. Not that potential retaliation is any reason to remain mute, but it is a reason to pick one’s battles carefully. Better that the MLA directs its anti-war members to other organizations that can more effectively focus their outrage—then girds its own organizational loins to protect intellectual freedom.

    Posted by  on  01/12  at  12:52 PM
  16. I’m with Janet on this one.
    Clare

    Posted by  on  01/12  at  01:29 PM
  17. I would prefer a 2 hour documentary on Johnny Depp being covered in oatmeal, or maybe grits, but who am I to question Janet’s taste?

    Posted by  on  01/12  at  02:07 PM
  18. So, is this somehow related to Julian Bond and the NAACP IRS probe? Is the MLA concerned about this? Which this, you ask? Are we as mere citizens, and members of non-profit organizations such as families, kinship groups and so forth, allowed to voice our opinion on governmental policies?  Why, if we are non-profit organizations providing useful services to society such as feeding our kids and so forth, are we taxed?  Should we be probed by the IRS for voicing our opinions?  Is there enough angst in the body politic to create a crisis?  Why is the word schadenfreude showing up so often nowadays, and being used so incorrectly?

    Posted by Carol  on  01/12  at  08:34 PM
  19. I’m confused.  Are we now asking Johnny Depp to leave Iraq?  Or are we going to send him in as Cap’n Jack Sparrow to strike fear (and some hilarity) in the heart of the insurgency?  And couldn’t our death squads use someone like Edward Scissorhands?  Will we train the nascent Iraqi police force using “21 Jump Street” videos?  Will Canada let us?  Speaking of Canada, couldn’t they send a few underemployed hockey goons to open up some cans of high sticking, glove dropping, teeth-losing whoop-ass in those wussy provinces that say it’s not safe enough to participate in the election.  Vote or die, baby.

    Posted by corndog  on  01/12  at  10:32 PM
  20. I am basically sympathetic to Michael’s position, articulated by Terence more clearly here, that it is not in the MLA’s interests to issue a resolution against the war.

    I always thought it got a little farcical as a rank and file member and not a member of the inner circle when the MLA started issuing resolutions with a profoundly moralizing flavor—this was in the Clinton years, but I think there was a high-minded resolution issued against generalized violence.

    But nary a word on underpaid adjuncts, or inadequate childcare, or work/life issues, or academic hate mail, which actually seems to affect our lives much more.... I thought cynically in those days that the less effect a resolution would have, the more likely it would be to pass. But Michael’s inside look at the operations of the MLA machine shows that even that speculation is not true.

    Posted by Catherine Liu  on  01/13  at  04:57 AM
  21. By the way, that Depp/oatmeal documentary? It’s already been done. Edward Spoonhands. And I think it was filmed in Canada.

    Posted by  on  01/13  at  10:13 AM
  22. But nary a word on underpaid adjuncts, or inadequate childcare, or work/life issues, or academic hate mail, which actually seems to affect our lives much more....

    The same could be said of the AAA, the professional organization for anthropologists. It’s infuriating.

    Posted by  on  01/13  at  10:55 AM
  23. Seems to me like the line is fuzzy.  MLA is already passing resolutions about political issues not directly related to the organization.  It’s a fine line between the examples Michael cites affirmatively and the Iraq war resolution.  For me, the question is this: if the membership voted for it, why veto it?  I don’t see any actual benefit to the organization that exists by virtue of the executive council’s veto.

    For the record, though I would probably not attend a delegate assembly, nor would I initiate such a resolution, were I to be confronted with a resolution against the Iraq War at MLA, I would vote for it.

    --J

    Posted by Jonathan  on  01/13  at  06:04 PM
  24. By the way, that Depp/oatmeal documentary? It’s already been done. Edward Spoonhands. And I think it was filmed in Canada.

    You’re in depp shit now, with a sense of humour like that.

    Posted by  on  01/13  at  07:37 PM
  25. I can only hope the rules for MLA citations have changed so I have to get a new book.

    I could care less about Iraq...how do I cite the PNAC Statement of Principles??

    Posted by John Lyon  on  01/14  at  01:17 AM
  26. As Michael can confirm, the MLA has spoken ad nauseam about underpaid adjuncts, inadequate child care, and work/life issues. A little less about academic hate mail, but I don´t know that many of our members have had problems with it, not enough to justify a resolution anyway. 

    Now, as for the resolution on the war, sure, it would have no effect whatsoever on the war itself. But I side with the ones who think that that´s no basis on which to make a decision. On the other hand, I don´t think an MLA resolution calling for withdrawal of troops from Iraq would put rightist wingnuts on any better a position to step on our throats than they already are at the moment.

    If I understand Michael correctly, I agree with him on this: the question is one of tactics, with consequences that remain primarily within the association. Speaking as someone who has tried to pass dozens of resolutions on things such as wars and nuclear proliferation in half a dozen scholarly societies, my experience is that if 5 or 10 percent of your constituency is against it, better not to bother. Because there will always be another 30 or 40 who favor the content of the resolution, but would not go out of their way to defend it, or would not agree that the resolution is necessary. By the time you approve it, your constituency is more divided than it was to begin with. If there´s danger that the resolution will be used to attack some of your privileges (such as your tax-exempt status) then the whole thing becomes counterproductive.

    All of this is to say: thank you, Michael, for taking up this most thankless (and much needed) task of mediating between the EC and the Assembly. I´m sure it wasn´t easy or fun.

    Posted by idelber  on  01/14  at  01:37 PM
  27. I’m a PhD and an ex-academic in a different field. In general, my experience is that the actions of professional associations tend to be non-persuasive among other PhDs (including those in one’s field), let alone among the public. There is more credibility if the organization really can be seen as commenting on the issue at hand. The American Psychological Assn might have credibility on torture issues because their members study torture, elicitation of information, etc. and they could summarize research evidence on these topics. There are areas of medicine that could have similar credbility. These organizations would need to be careful, though, because the appearence of partisan political activity would threaten their non-profit status.

    If it’s the idea that people in a profession should “take a stand”, then it makes more sense for an existing advocacy constituency to to carry the banner. There are Physicians for Social Responsibility, Physicists for Social Responsibility, etc. who address peace issues. Organizations like these have a better capacity than the mainline professional and scientific organizations to articulate the policy issues as well as the unique contribution of any discipline to the consideration of these issues. An organization like MLA is likely to say something that persuades no one, including their own members and would take forever to hammer out siad statement. Professional organizations should take an interest in issues in the wider world, but they also have to figure out where and how they can make a difference.

    Posted by  on  01/14  at  03:43 PM
  28. I go away for a few days and come back to find a real debate goin’ on.  Cool.  Mike Donlin first, because he disagrees with me.  Mike, there was a similar antiwar resolution in 2001 and 2002, which tried to argue against war in Afghanistan and Iraq on the grounds that expenditures on education decline in times of war.  Quite apart from the fact that this isn’t always true, it was a fairly threadbare attempt to link the war to the subjects the MLA does address in its charter, and the problem with that, as Amardeep points out, is that there isn’t any direct link between federal war expenditures and higher education.  You have to argue somehow that the war indirectly drains state coffers (but then so do Bush’s tax cuts), and you have to establish some connection between federal outlays and state higher ed budgets.  Basically, there’s no easy way to say “the war is being paid for out of higher education budgets.” We’d have been much better off, I think, passing a resolution about Pell grants and budget allotments to the states.  Would that be too “coy” about opposing the war?  Not necessarily; in terms of damage to the US’ overall budget picture, the tax cuts are even more harmful than the war expenditures.

    Jonathan, a procedural point:  the membership did not vote for the resolution.  Resolutions go through the Delegate Assembly Organizing Committee and, if approved, are voted on by the Delegate Assembly.  They then go to the Executive Council, who determines whether they should be blocked for being (a) erroneous, tortious, or libelous, or (b) outside the association’s charter.  And that’s how sausage gets made!  Seriously, oversight by the EC shouldn’t be a rubber stamp, because the DA has, in the past, unwittingly passed a handful of resolutions that were in fact erroneous-- one of which was then withdrawn by its proposers, which pissed everyone off, for good reason, and one of which got the MLA sued.

    Catherine, this year the DA passed two resolutions concerning adjunct and part-time labor.  One would help to defray adjuncts’ expenses when they attend the MLA; the other asks us to work with the Coalition on Contingent Academic Labor, in a 2006 conference, to devise ways of getting administrations at private universities to adopt “voluntary recognition” of graduate student unions.  In the late 1990s the DA, largely through the work of Cary Nelson and the leaders of the Graduate Student Caucus, passed a series of quite stringent resolutions about the abuse of adjuncts, the rights of part-timers, the establishment of wage floors throughout the profession, and (not least) the right of all university employees to unionize.  Also, as part of my service on the EC, I helped draft the guidelines for the ethical treatment of permanent non-tenure track faculty (whose issues are often dramatically different from those of adjuncts and part-timers).  Finally, the MLA was the first scholarly organization to create a Committee on Disability Issues in the profession (in 1997-- the philosophers are just getting around to emulating us now).  So no, we don’t all have our heads in our colons when it comes to work/life issues. 

    As for the question of whether the antiwar resolution would have any effect:  I agree with Idelber here in thinking that this is a moot question.  The wingnuts will come after us regardless of the war (and our position on it), and of course no one (to my knowledge) thinks that the resolution will create any headway for broader antiwar activism.  It’s a symbolic issue, I think, and not to be dismissed on that count (if I haven’t made this clear by now, I’m not entirely against this resolution).  But because we don’t have anything like an MLA-wide consensus on troop withdrawal (even if our constitution did speak of such things), I tend to go with Rich here.  (The Union of Concerned Scientists seems to me a good model to follow.) The Radical Caucus of the MLA (which sponsored the resolution) took out an ad in the Village Voice (together with other like-minded groups) condemning the war in far more detailed and lively prose than anything that came before the Delegate Assembly, and personally, that’s precisely what I think they should have done.

    And yes, I was indeed suggesting that Johnny Depp should get out of Iraq-- or at least the south of France.  JR, you are so right about the acting in Neverland.  Feel free to stick around and comment on my capsule film reviews next week, too!

    Posted by Michael  on  01/14  at  06:18 PM
  29. Ok, but now you have to tell us how the MLA almost got itself sued.  I’m ever so curious.  And who makes up the delegate assembly?

    I may go eat some (veggie) sausage tonight.

    Best,
    --J

    Posted by Jonathan  on  01/14  at  06:47 PM
  30. Michael, the above is certainly true with regard to the resolutions passed by the MLA DA, and the work you, Cary Nelson, and others have done is both appreciated and respected by those of us in the perma-temp pool.  Sadly, though, there has not been anything close to wide spread adoption of the resolutions on the nation’s campuses.  Universities and colleges either blatantly disregard these resolutions, or are not aware that they have been passed.  And in my experience this combined ignorance/disregard is as true for dept. chairs as it is for mid- and high-level administrators.  No one is exactly quaking in anticipation of yet another MLA DA resoultion.

    As much as I dislike those yearly send-ups of the MLA convention by the NY Times, they do accurately reflect, albeilt indiretly and allusively, the esteem in which the MLA and academics are held by the general society: it’s a pompous, somewhat entertaining, but ultimately toothless bunch.

    And more importnatly, it’s both incapable and unwilling to stem the steam roller of universal adjunctification—whose completeion is, sadly, only a matter of time.

    Posted by  on  01/15  at  12:49 PM
  31. Perhaps these people want to be part of a group where their position foreign policy actually wins, as apposed to, say, a U.S. Presidential election.

    Perhaps they want to make a public showing of their outrage, certifying their liberal credentials.  It makes them feel like their opinion is important.

    Or, maybe they want to ferret out the heretics who disagree with a complete Iraq, Afghanistan pullout.  They look-out for anyone who rolls their eyes indicating they might be a closet moderate.

    Posted by  on  01/15  at  03:40 PM
  32. It’s true that professional organizations like the MLA have little “teeth” when it comes to getting universities to stop the “perma-temp” trend. All these groups can do is document, analyze, advise, cajole, remind, etc. The pressure on universities has to come from the faculty who have the tenure-track jobs, the people who pay for education (parents, students), and, ultimately, smart legislators (yeah, i know...) who insist on quality state institutions. And quality means having a faculty made up mostly of full time, tenure track profs. If the supply of perma-temps dried up and the public demand for a correct staffing system increased, maybe the pattern would shift.

    Posted by  on  01/16  at  12:27 AM
  33. I stand corrected by all of you who have reminded me that the MLA has issued resolutions against the permatemp situation in the academy,—I don’t keep up with the delegate assembly situation.

    But if you don’t think that intimidation of the professoriate is not a problem now and that hate mail is not a prevalent way of “communicating” to younger, minority and controversial colleagues, I urge you to visit my blog above, but also to reconsider your ideas about this situation. There is a general level of lack of respect and collegiality that I actually think this professional organization CAN speak to.

    An anonymous prof has let me post a piece of recently received hate mail at my blog <a href="http://www.higher-yearning.org/2005/01/telling-on-teacher.html>here </a>. I’ve also received an intra-faculty piece of hate mail that I can post as well, accusing me of getting tenure through a gay conspiracy at the U of MInnesota, I’m not kidding....Perhaps some of you have not been affected by this, but an astonishing number of my colleagues have been treated to this sort of thing, and I actually think that professional organization might take notice.

    However, I’m not a member of the delegate assembly, and have not served as many have in any administrative capacity for that organization. I thank Michael for the work he’s done and for his report on how the whole thing functions, because from where I stand, it looked even grimmer. The humor on the blog helped.

    Posted by Catherine Liu  on  01/16  at  08:41 AM
  34. I’m just a crank about the MLA, and I was mouthing off earlier. In fact, last year during the strike of the AFSCME 3800 Union at the University of Minnesota, I realized that it was in the best interest of everyone concerned to deal with labor issues through labor unions and that all the resolutions in the world weren’t going to do a hell of a lot of good.

    This means dealing with life/work issues at the University through alliances with staff. The most active people on the life/work issue at Minnesota were staff, most of whom like I did, had young children. This was as you can imagine, not the case with the majority of faculty.

    Here is what I think we should be debating as a professional organization : David Horowitz

    Posted by Catherine Liu  on  01/16  at  06:52 PM
  35. Sorry I couldn’t manage an even longer and more comprehensive response last time, everyone-- I was blogging on borrowed time and a borrowed connection.  So I forgot to tell Amardeep that yes, the DA did set aside 30 minutes for discussion of the post-9/11 visa regulations and their impact on students and scholars.  Unfortunately, about 20 of those minutes (by my count) were taken up by people still angry about the Iraq/Afghanistan resolution, who insisted that we cannot talk about one without talking about the other.  Which is demonstrably untrue, since the post-9/11 visa situation would have a chilling effect on international students and studies regardless of whether we had launched any war anywhere, and should certainly be addressed on its own terms.

    mrkmyr, thanks for your suggestions.  I think the answer is all of the above; I see you’ve listed your hypotheses in an order of ascending cynicism, and I think even the most benign reading is appropriate (i.e., simply wanting to be in a deliberative body where one’s position actually wins for a change).

    Catherine, you have my sympathy with regard to hate mail. (And I’ve gotten my share too, though no one’s yet accused me of getting tenure via a gay conspiracy.) Even here, though, the MLA will be relatively toothless; what you need is a campus ombudsman or a good ad hoc personnel-director type who’s willing to ferret out these slimeballs.  The principle you cite with regard to unions-- look to your local, not to your disciplinary organization-- holds here too.  Of course, there’s also the power of the blog!  Display these people to the world!  And in the meantime, yes, the MLA will continue to take on Horowitz.  We discussed the “Academic Bill of Rights” a bit in December, and there’s been a followup discussion (strategy, organization, etc.) on the DA listserv.

    Last but not least, Chris, of course you’re almost completely right-- the permatemp de-professionalization of the professoriate proceeds apace, despite all our calls for a living wage, access to office support and phones and mailboxes, and resources for career development, etc., for NTT and adjunct faculty.  After all, the MLA has no enforcement mechanism to speak of.  All we can do, on labor questions, is to issue guidelines and standards; we don’t even have the AAUP’s power to censure institutions.  (But, following Cary’s lead on this one, I’m running for AAUP National Council for that very reason!  Don’t forget to vote!) But it’s not quite true that no one cares or quakes about a DA resolution.  In 2002, a dean whose college was named in a resolution (for allegedly unfair labor practices) showed up in person on the floor of the DA to denounce the resolution and urge its defeat; for her, the resolution did amount to censure.  And Jonathan, to answer your question, the MLA wasn’t “almost” sued-- it was sued, in the mid-1990s, by Bennington College.  This is a matter of public record (being a suit and all)-- and I can’t tell you much more, not because I’m shy but because I wasn’t on the DA or the EC for that one.  I hear it was bad, and I hear it involved “erroneous, libelous, or tortious” material.

    So join me in drafting a resolution condemning Finding Neverland for the 2005 MLA, folks.  You’ll be glad you did.

    Posted by Michael  on  01/16  at  09:42 PM
  36. Yes, winning feels goooood so let it be resolved that… but can a blog issue a resolution?

    Posted by Catherine Liu  on  01/16  at  10:00 PM
  37. I move that a blog can issue a resolution.  Second?

    Posted by Michael  on  01/16  at  10:21 PM
  38. Second on the motion that blogs can issue resolutions, but since I’ve never seen Finding Neverland, Michel I can’t join my voice to yours there—I mean maudlin to you might be BERGMAN to me! So sorry about that one!

    Posted by Catherine Liu  on  01/16  at  10:43 PM
  39. You say Bergman, and I say maudlin ... oh, let’s call the whole thing off ...

    Posted by  on  01/17  at  09:54 AM
  40. Hello everybody,
    I argued for the 2003 motion at the Delegates Association Organizing Committee at the M.L.A. to bring out troops from Iraq and Afghanistan and spend the money for health and education.

    I think Michael is completely wrong when he says that there is no connection between war spending and higher education spending. Since 1980, spending in higher education has been reduced 12% on the state level and 1% on the federal level: that’s a 13% reduction in spending for higher education (figures from American Federation of Teacher’s newsletter). At the same time in the Regan, Bush, and 2nd Bush administration there was been regular increases in defense and now war spending. As President Johnson discovered, you can either have guns (Vietnam War) or butter (War on Poverty) but not both. The evidence clearly shows that as long as this country keeps on getting involved in wars, the spending in higher education will be cut.

    Cuts in higher education spending then induce college administrations to part-time the faculty, cut classes, raise tuitions, etc etc. I’m not saying that the Bush cuts in taxes didn’t have impact--these tax cuts meant less money for states. But the lowering of federal & state spending for higher education started 20 years ago in 1980 before Bush junior’s tax cuts, so the tax cuts just exacerbated a long-term trend.  There is a 2nd financial impact of war spending:  producing inflation. With inflation, then everything costs more money, including higher education.

    I just don’t think that academics in all fields in higher education need to consider carefully that as long as the U.S. spends such vast amounts of money on war/defense, then there will be severe cuts in higher education and also health spending. 

    There is a wonderful novel “Mephisto” by Klaus Mann about intellectuals who protest and who don’t protest Hitler in the 1930s. The anti-Nazi protests in the short term did not stop Hitler. So one could argue that all their protests were “symbolic.” But in the long run German anti-Nazi intellectuals--including Klaus Manm, his sister Erica, and their father Thomas-- did help to build a anti-fascist movement. I do not think that anti-war protests at the MLA or anywhere else are “symbolic” just as I do not think German anti-Nazi intellectuals protests in the 1930s were “symbolic.” Mann’s “Mephisto” was made into a wonderful film, focusing on the an actor who didn’t protest but rose high in the art world in Nazi Germany. I suggest people look at the film Mephisto. I further think that people should look at the history of Nazis attacking and stamping out freedom of speech in German universites--it’s an important history.
    Sincerely
    Julia

    Posted by  on  01/17  at  02:07 PM
  41. Julia, what I actually said was “there isn’t any direct link between federal war expenditures and higher education.  You have to argue somehow that the war indirectly drains state coffers (but then so do Bush’s tax cuts), and you have to establish some connection between federal outlays and state higher ed budgets.  Basically, there’s no easy way to say ‘the war is being paid for out of higher education budgets.’” Your own comment above makes my case in striking detail:  even through the 25-year massive military buildup inaugurated by Reagan, federal higher education spending has gone down one percent (is that in constant dollars)?  And that counts as a “severe” cut?  Seriously, where is the evidence of fiscal austerity measures at U.S. universities, imposed by the federal government and justified specifically by the need to divert higher education funds to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq?

    As much as I’d like to find some, there isn’t any, because the truly severe, long-term damage to higher education budgets has been done on the state level; the costs have been passed along to students and their families in the form of skyrocketing tuition, while “state” schools now often receive less than 20 percent of their funding from their states (at Penn State we’re at about 15 percent).  That’s the neoliberal privatization of public goods and services for you. And as you yourself note, this process has proceeded smoothly in peacetime and in war, sped along by Democrats as well as Republicans (just ask my old friends at Illinois how much they’re enjoying their new Democratic governor).

    There are innumerable ways to oppose this war and occupation, as I do-- and, if you like, to oppose the destruction of the Taliban’s terror training camps as well (though I won’t join you on that one).  But arguing that they have a unique and terrible financial impact on higher education is one of the least plausible ways to do it.

    Posted by Michael  on  01/17  at  03:23 PM
  42. The argument behind taking a stand as a professional organization against the War in Iraq (and Afghanistan if you like) based upon its detrimental effects upon higher education is based upon INTEREST, or I would say SELF- INTEREST. I, like most of you, have participated in anti-war marches, petitions, ad the like as a citizen, as a matter of principle. Thus, we participate in democratic process of dissent. If the MLA issues resolutions from the point of view of self-interest, this logic would take us down a slippery slope of condoning let’s say “undercover” operations that do not cost the govt lots of money.

    It is not yet evident that defunding higher ed actually infringes upon academic freedom and freedom to dissent: this reasoning is also difficult to justify. During the post-Sputnik years when academics were much more well fed, white and well heeled, there was I believe much less dissent in the ranks. There are other reasons for this Cold War conformism if you like, but since Julia Stein points to Mephisto as a chilling parable of complicit and academics rising to stardom under Nazism, I would like to remind her that our intellectual predecessors among them Phillip Rahv, Mary McCarthy, Irving Kristol and the old Partisan Review crowd went along with covert CIA funding of cultural institutions because of the war against communism.

    We could say that the US climate of dissent in academia has flourished since 1989, when foreign languages and humanities budgets were cut because we were no longer in that ‘war’.

    Posted by Catherine Liu  on  01/17  at  09:03 PM
  43. My hat’s off to the MLA’ss Executive Council for rejecting a resolution that would have violated the MLA constitution without advancing the causes of the assocation or its memberships, and to Michael Berube for his witty and pointed (if not poignant) reparte.

    The American Sociological Association (a pathetically, and increasingly, political organization) could learn much from this dialogue - although it is frustrating to think that a social science group needs to learn how to be scientific from a humanities group.

    Posted by Ellis Godard  on  01/28  at  04:07 PM

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