Philadelphia, PA—If you thought that the Modern Language Association was a highly politicized group whose real activities belied its innocuous-sounding name, you ain’t seen nothing yet. The 122-year-old organization has moved so far left that it now has a red caucus but the MLA is moving even further into the political thicket.
Moreover, with thousands of college professors on its membership rolls, drawn from about as many colleges and universities, many of them Department chairs, the MLA functions as a virtual nerve center for English faculty throughout the United States. What happens at their annual convention, then, could be coming soon to a campus near you.
At the 2006 annual convention, for example, MLA members Jennifer Miskec (Christopher Newport University) and Chris McGee (Longwood University) put out a call for papers for the 2007 convention on “Children and Political Activism.” “Inspired by the work of Susan Bartoletti’s Kids on Strike and Growing up in Coal Country, this panel seeks submissions examining children’s texts (fictional, non-fictional, photographic, etc.) depicting children taking political action and/or texts that are designed to inspire child readers to take up direct political action,” they explain. “These texts might include representations of radical children demanding their rights or fighting for particular causes.”
But in addition to the choice of topics the MLA puts up for discussion at its annual meeting, congregation members really make their preferences known in the resolutions submitted to the Delegate Assembly. “Whereas at its 2005 meeting the MLA Delegate Assembly approved a motion for the MLA to adopt a policy of union preference for hotel contracts,” Christopher Cobb moved, “and, Whereas the Informed Meetings Exchange provides information useful to the enactment of this policy.”
“Therefore, we move that the MLA Executive Council be thanked for its decision to subscribe to the Informed Meetings Exchange in order to enact effectively the MLA’s policy of union preference.”
The MLA’s view of the Right to Work might put it at odds with the 90 percent of the workforce that is not unionized, and who, in turn, probably pay the salaries of most MLA members. Similarly, the stand on unchecked illegal immigration taken by the MLA puts the group on about the same point of the popular divide.
“Whereas undocumented workers, through their labor, contribute greatly to the economy of the USA,” read a resolution submitted by Grover Furr and adopted by the MLA:
• “And Whereas they are shamefully deprived of most legal rights other workers enjoy; and
• “Whereas they are super-exploited as a result; and
• “Whereas the MLA is appropriately concerned about the use of language and about access to higher education;
• “Resolved that the MLA urge that the phrase ‘undocumented workers’ be used in place of the abusive term ‘illegal aliens.’”
Furr went on to urge that the MLA be “Resolved that every state guarantee undocumented workers who live there in-state tuition.” At last year’s meeting, Furr, who teaches at Montclair State University, also presented his thesis that Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin was framed by scholars who accused him of genocide.
In light of all of the above, you will probably not be surprised to learn that the MLA is not wild about the idea of giving the poor vouchers for tuition so that they can exit public schools and place their kids in private ones. “Resolved; the MLA condemns the dismantling of the New Orleans public school system after Katrina and the wider privatizing movements that has [sic] fed upon this disaster,” read the resolution submitted by Richard Ohmann on behalf of the Radical Caucus in English and Modern Languages, to which Cobb and Furr also belong.
Ohmann, who teaches at Wesleyan, is the author of English in America: A Radical View of the Profession. The ultimate irony of his submission is that, pre-Katrina, the New Orleans public school system was hardly spinning like a top with efficiency, even before the first raindrop fell.
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