An MLA Agenda: Too Little Too Late

In many places, laudable efforts to professionalize institutional policies and practices for faculty members off the tenure track have established an intermediate tier consisting of full-time contingent faculty members who hold renewable multiyear contracts. While these faculty members have more job security than part-time or short-term instructors, they are still far more vulnerable to cutbacks than colleagues on the tenure track, typically have heavier teaching loads than their tenure-track counterparts, and usually play limited roles in student advising and curriculum planning. Compared with the opportunities for professional development and institutional advancement of tenure-track faculty members, theirs are scant; their lot is to live with the frustration and resentment inherent in second-class academic citizenship.

MLA Newsletter, Summer 2009, “An Agenda for These Times,” Catherine Porter

I have to say my profession, especially my professional organizations, drive me a little batty. Everything seems laced with a bit of irritating class bias. I love the people who love technology and who incorporate it into their classrooms, but they are also too often uncritically consumerist. I enjoy the conventions (well, mostly) but they seem utterly disconnected from economic reality. Everything is priced for the tenured-expense-account-professors.

Notwithstanding the fantasies of the hard-right, academia is shockingly conservative, loath to accept even the most minor change. Porter calls tenured faculty “a discomfited elite, caught up in awkward relationships with their less-privileged colleagues.” That’s great to hear but it would have been even better to hear it a decade ago, when graduate students (yours truly among them) first began to sound the alarm.

A cynic might see the establishment of the Academic Workforce Advocacy Kit as a kind of sudden realization on the part of this elite that they may well have killed the goose that laid the golden egg of their discomfited privileges. Honestly, I am not sure how to judge it, although there must surely be some goose killing paranoia in the mix somewhere. Maybe, though, we might see this as the long-slumbering beast slowly awakening.

About Ray Watkins

I was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, at Our Lady of the Lake Hospital. I grew up in Houston, as a part of what we only half-jokingly call the Cajun Diaspora. At a certain point during the Regan administration, I had to leave, so I served in the Peace Corps, Philippines, from 1987-89. I didn't want to return to the United States just yet, so I moved to Paris, France, where I lived for three years or so. I then moved back to Austin, Texas, where I had received my Masters Degree, and (eventually) began a Ph.D., which I completed in 1999. I spent a year at Temple University and then accepted a position at Eastern Illinois University where I worked until May of 2006. I now work exclusively on line (although that may change) for Johns Hopkins, the Art Institute Online, and I can be reached most easily via email: raywatkins [that 'at' symbol]

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