1. The 1997 MLA Convention in Toronto began with a lunch meeting of the
Graduate Student Caucus, arranged by Heather Julien and Mary
Refling and attended by graduate student leaders from the nearly forty
member departments in North America. The historic rise in GSC
membership--from 375 last spring to 4,000 presently--was manifest in the
excitement of the participants, many of them meeting for the first time
outside the virtual community. Laura Sullivan, GSC president, commenced with the strategic agenda for
2. The significance of the GSC meeting was
highlighted by the MLA "Welcome Session." The tones of the two meetings
could not have been more different: the GSC gathering displayed a
mixture of idealism tempered with aggressive calls to action, while the
MLA session (with the notable exception of the two graduate student speakers) was remarkably condescending. Wendy Martin, Chair of the Claremont Graduate School
English Department, set the tone when
she exhorted graduate students to consider "alternative careers" in the
corporate arena that would require "alternative skills" such as
time-management techniques and making telephone calls for foundations.
Martin, to the stunned disbelief of GSC members, went on to praise a
sort of passive pragmatism, where graduate students simply make the best
of an increasingly bad situation by not complaining too much and looking
for other types of employment. She somewhat vaguely discussed the
technological employment possibilities of distance learning, apparently
unaware that such techno-fixes are one of the excuses universities use
to justify hiring fewer full-time instructors. And this profoundly
demoralizing rhetoric was followed by Martha Banta, who urged that
graduate students locate a "friendly professor" who would help them
redress their apparent ignorance of the difference between a seminar
paper and a PMLA submission, and David Bartholomae, who murmured in what
seemed a rehearsed monotone that the MLA convention was really neat
because it permitted him to meet up with his friends once a year. As the
"Welcome Session" sputtered out , the only thing one came away with was
the distinct sense of being unwelcome in a moribund organization.
Marc Bousquet's suggestion that "activism builds character"--inversely
corroborated by the establishment speakers--felt more deeply true than
3. The Delegate Assembly Meeting of 29 December, 1997, was, conversely,
a resounding success for the GSC. Areas of particular concern to
graduate students and part-time academic workers are as follows:
4. Election of new members to the Elections Committee. Three
GSC-supported petition candidates were voted onto the Elections
Committee: Joe Aimone, former GSC president, Laura Sullivan, current GSC
president, and the activist Paul Lauter. The election was a breakthrough
for graduate students and part-time academic workers as the eight person Elections Committee
selects the candidates for the Delegate Assembly, the central governing
body of the MLA.
5. The 41 page "final report" from the Committee on Professional
Employment contends that the number of part-time instructors at colleges
and universities has nearly doubled since 1970, and that the trend of
hiring part-time labor to save money "threatens the quality of higher
education." Herbert Lindenberger, President of the MLA, urged that
reversing the trend, in which part-timers made up 40 percent of faculty
members last year, up from 22 percent in 1970, "must become a priority
for policy-making on all levels." The report was approved by the
Delegate Assembly 126 to 10.
6. The Statement from the Conference on the Growing Use of Part-Time
and Adjunct Faculty held 26-28 September 1997 in Washington, DC and
organized by the American Historical Association (AHA) and ten other
organizations, including the MLA, concludes that "meeting the increasing
need for access to higher education in the next century" will require
attention to the "growing use of part-time and adjunct faculty." The
action agenda contained in the statement, structured to reverse the
increasing reliance on part-time faculty, was approved by the Delegate
Assembly 138 to 4.
7. Items of old business: all motions from last year's agenda that
could not be voted once a quorum was lost and not enough delegates were
present to have a binding vote. Motion 7-2, submitted by the Graduate Student Caucus, asserts that with the
proportion of part-time teachers accelerating to unacceptable levels, a
trend threatening academic freedom, faculty self-governance, democratic
access to the profession, reduction of the opportunity for
student-faculty interaction, and the disabling of the production of new
knowledge in the discipline, the MLA is to determine minimum standards
of acceptable full-time/part-time ratios by various institutional
circumstances, and report those standards by the next convention. The
motion, opposed by members of the Delegate Assembly Organizing Committee, was passed by the Delegate
Assembly 95 to 11.
8. Motion 7-3, submitted by Bousquet on behalf of the GSC, recommends
that the MLA direct substantial efforts to convincing accreditation
agencies that educationally sound full-time/part-time faculty ratios
(measured on a department-by-department basis) should be a determining
factor in the accreditation process. The motion was passed by the
Delegate Assembly 85 to 20.
9. Motion 7-4, submitted by the GSC, argues that
because working conditions in the academy are directly affected by
social policy, and because the MLA already devotes resources to public
relations, the MLA should direct substantial public relations resources
toward the immediate task of making the public aware of the educational
advantages of reconverting part-time work to full-time jobs. The motion
was passed by the Delegate Assembly (with the apparently obligatory
objections from EC and DAOC members), 89 to 21.
10. Motion 7-5, submitted by the GSC, contends
that whereas the MLA has recently acted to provide proportional
representation for graduate students in the Delegate Assembly, and
whereas the principle of "fair representation" in the Executive Council
is already established with respect to the variety of modern languages
represented by the membership, and whereas graduate students and adjunct
faculty do more than 40 percent of all higher education teaching, the
MLA should extend the principles of fair and proportional representation
to the Executive Council and standing committees of the association to
include graduate students and adjunct faculty in proportion to their
membership in the association. Members of the DAOC argued that should
they extend equal representation to graduate students and part-time
faculty they would necessarily have to extend it to all "special interest"
groups of the MLA. This argument is, of course, specious as graduate students
already represent all other "special interests." Motion 7-5 was ruled out of order by the chair of the meeting, Elaine Showalter, suddenly
and without further discussion. As a result no vote was allowed. It was evident to all in
attendance, however, considering the previous vote margins on GSC
related motions, that 7-5 had overwhelming support had it been allowed
on the floor. It was a culminating moment wherein insiders of MLA governance were revealed as less than democratic, and hostile to graduate-student and part-time faculty initiatives.
11. Resolution 8(a)-3, submitted by the
GSC, contends that whereas the principles of open dialogue, affirmative
representation, access and inclusiveness have long been observed by this
association, be it resolved that the principle of affirmative
representation to which the association adheres in its recruitment of
candidates for nomination to ad-hoc committees, standing committees and
executive council in future be extended to include the diversity of
workplace experience and status. After a brief series of amendments to
the language, the resolution was approved by the Delegate Assembly 58 to
12. To sum up: MLA leadership exhibited throughout the session their
unwillingness to comprehend the reality of graduate student
and part-time experience. It was apparent to all,
however--full-time faculty and students alike--just how far out of touch
this leadership is from the dire state of the profession and its own
membership. Yet viewed another way this demonstrated unwillingness to engage
has provided the GSC with a tremendous opportunity--or, more to the point
obligation--to direct the MLA in the years ahead into a more
progressive, activist posture in setting standards of ethical treatment
of graduate students and part-timer workers in institutions of higher
education, and in so doing creating a more equitable professional future
for all. As Cary Nelson cracked half-humorously over dinner one night:
the MLA's a real nice ship, it's just that there's no one at the helm.
13. The standing-room-only GSC Cash Bar proved a lively hour during
which new members and crashers drank wine and conversed with
one another about various issues--prominently the GSC's increasingly
important role nationally and at individual institutions. It was the
largest gathering of people in the annual GSC Cash Bar history, and the
excitement in the air was electric as it was evident to all that the GSC
was on the map in a big way. The only downside was that the time seemed
to fly past, and thus several groups of new and old acquaintances
ventured out into the Toronto night to explore the great restaurants and
pubs and thereby continue their conversations (usually at the guidance
of expert resident Vicky Smallman). And finally, on the last day of the
convention, the GSC-sponsored panel "Organizing Locally, Acting
(Inter)Nationally" merged with the Marxist Literary Group and attended
to such issues as student organizing in California (all nine state
schools), lobbying the Texas Legislature, renovating the CUNY house of
labor, and, of course, the need for more "flirting" and "sex" in GSC
organizing activities. The individual
talks emphasized action, but perhaps more importantly they were personal
and moving, exhibiting qualities absent from so much of the academic
world, and this warm reminder from the panel brought home an aspect of
the GSC that to our experience has made it unique. The 97 Toronto Convention
was, by any measure, a very big success for the GSC. It is now
crucially important that members of the Caucus build on this success in
preparation for San Francisco by becoming actively engaged, with
whatever time can be afforded, in committee and/or other work.
14. The following are the 1998 GSC Committees.
15. Membership Committee: Continues the remarkably successful work of
reaching out to graduate programs throughout North America.
Heather Julien (CUNY), Chair; Anne Rascon (Cornell); Patty Suppes (UNC
Chapel Hill); Rick Lee (Rutgers); Ellie Kennedy (Queens--Canada).
Sonja Streuber (UC Davis); Le'a Kent (U of Washington).
16. Publicity Committee: Acts as the public relations arm of the GSC,
disseminating press releases, writing GSC-related articles, and creating
new projects such as videography.
Rick Magee (Fordham), Chair; Christian Gregory (U of Florida); Jean
17. Elections Committee: Facilitates GSC internal elections as well as
coordinates GSC members to run and vote in MLA elections.
Kate Burns (UC San Diego) and Eric Grekowicz (Michigan State),
Co-Chairs; Vicky Smallman (McMaster).
18. Governance Committee: Structures internal GSC issues as well as
motions and resolutions brought before the MLA.
Greg Bezkorovainy (CUNY) and Jonathan Singer (UC Irvine), Co-Chairs; Leo
Parascandola (CUNY); Margaret Loose (U of Iowa--summer).
19. Electronic Organizing Committee: Structures the GSC virtual
community and implements cyber-design, including the GSC website and
Kent Puckett (Columbia) and Matt Kirschenbaum (Virginia), Co-Chairs;
Matthew Gold (CUNY); Arnab Chakladar (USC).
20. Treasurer/Fundraising Committee: Oversees GSC banking practices,
tracks membership and dues, and engages in fundraising.
Jennifer Lemberg (CUNY), Chair; Rebecca Hussey (Fordham); Eliza
21. Liaison Committee: Defines the GSC's role in communicating with
and reaching out to affiliated organizations and non-MLA groups.
Bill Pannapacker (Harvard), Chair; Julie Schmid (U of Iowa).
22. MLA Delegate Assembly Members: Promotes GSC concerns in the DA and
reports back to GSC membership.
Mark Kelley (CUNY); Marc Bousquet (Indiana); Joe Aimone (UC Davis); and
Eric Grekowicz (Michigan State) are elected members of the DA.
23. MLA Executive Council.
Kirsten Christiansen (U of Texas) is an elected member of the EC.
24. MLA Elections Committee.
Laura Sullivan (U of Florida); Joe Aimone (UC Davis); and Paul Lauter
(Trinity) are elected members of the Elections Committee.
25. Mary Refling (Columbia) will serve her first term as Godmother to
26. Brilliant ideas, suggestions for new committees, thoughts on ways
the GSC can help at your home institution, and queries are encouraged
and should be directed to Mark Kelley, First VP-GSC
(firstname.lastname@example.org), Bill Pannapacker(email@example.com),
and/or Mary Refling (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Mark Kelley, City University of New York