Post Academic


The latest from the MLA: Are job security and a living wage “snooty”?

Posted in Surviving Grad School,The Education Industry by Arnold Pan on March 16, 2010
Tags: , ,

I don’t mean to slag on the MLA, I really don’t–heck, I’m still a dues-paying member and they really do mean well.  But the way the MLA has responded to the crappy job market seems a little out of touch, as if the organization hadn’t foreseen what was on the horizon even though all (or at least many) of its members knew the situation wasn’t ever so great to begin with.  The latest is a resolution, introduced in December at the 2009 MLA convention, that the MLA is asking its members to comment on, then vote for, which I’m reproducing below:

“Whereas job security is under attack throughout higher education; and

Whereas a job with a living wage is an economic right of all employees;

Be it resolved that the MLA recognize the importance of job security throughout the academic workforce. All college and university faculty members–full- and part-time–should be eligible for tenure. All higher education employees should have appropriate forms of job security, due process, a living wage, and access to health care benefits.”

Yes, job security, a living wage, and health care benefits would be nice, which goes without saying.  But the appearance of such a resolution at this point almost implies that these issues weren’t primary concerns until now, when it’s (almost?) too late.  And they should probably include grad students/future faculty members under the job security and living wage umbrella, unless they *know* that it’s a promise that can’t be kept.

Before you assume that it’s a slam-dunk that everyone would agree with the basic demands of a very vague, general resolution, check out the blow-by-blow account of the debate over it at the MLA convention, recorded for posterity at Inside Higher Ed.  Not only was the resolution *not* unanimously agreed upon, but a major sticking point appears to be whether or not the mention of “living wage” was “snooty!”  Via the Inside Higher Ed report from 12/30/2009:

“A representative for creative writing faculty, Brian Leung, an associate professor at the University of Louisville, said the resolution’s clause declaring ‘a living wage … an economic right of all employees’ came off as ‘snooty’ and ‘rings really hollow’ coming from academics, whom outsiders often criticize for complaining about employment conditions from within the security of the tenure system.

Eva Woods Peiró, an assistant professor of Hispanic studies at Vassar College, said a ‘living wage is anything but snooty’.”

You’d think that such a resolution, which is so boilerplate one wonders if it is enforceable and what it would actually enforce, wouldn’t be controversial in any way.  But it figures that academics would debate the semantics of “a living wage” rather than figure out what that wage would be and try to deliver it.

MLA Resolution Comment Form (member login req’d) [mla.org]

Economics and the MLA [Inside Higher Ed, 12/30/2009]

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3 Responses to 'The latest from the MLA: Are job security and a living wage “snooty”?'

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  1. postacademic said,

    I don’t know Brian Leung personally, but it seems to me that someone who already has a good job and is an Associate Professor at a pretty good school (U of L being one of the better options in the Kentuck), might want to be stay out of the debate. I’d like to find out if he has a follow-up or has thought about his statement. Maybe he wanted to say “academics, quit yer bitchin'” when he meant “tenured academics, quit yer bitchin'”?

    He also assumes that all professors make the same amount, which isn’t true at all. If he gets a good salary, and the money also probably goes much farther in Louisville than elsewhere.

  2. Arnold Pan said,

    If anyone knows the Kentuck, it’s you! Leung makes some kind of clarification in the comments section of the piece, saying he would have added “competent” to the clause, presumably to identify which academic workers would qualify for job security and a living wage. It sounds like it’s Leung’s world, and we hafta be competent to live in it.

    This might be completely unfair, but we’ve turned Brian Leung into a straw man, like the hypothetical “inside hire.”

  3. Len said,

    I got the text of this resolution in my e-mail, too. I know that MLA resolutions are always milquetoasty, but I was disappointed even by MLA standards. You’re absolutely right — it’s very late, there’s nothing remotely controversial in it, and nothing about how they would enforce it.

    They first need to specify an addressee. Maybe they should address it to legislators. If the MLA threatens to come out to endorse specific political candidates–as unions do–the resolution might turn some heads. Otherwise it’ll just seem like more blather from grad students, university teachers and professors … and we’re very easy for the general public to ignore. Unfortunately, university administrators are the first to ignore the humanities people.

    Maybe the MLA should seriously think about getting some lobbyists? I thought about this because, in Cambridge, the representative to the State House is really scared of all the professors in town, and she sends out letters to them regularly talking about how she’s defending the academics, etc. Obviously the demographics are different in the rest of the country, but with 30,000 members, you’d think we would have more political clout.

    When I think that the MLA is the “best hope” for protecting humanities jobs, I get terribly worried. The AAUP is even more of a joke, with its public long list of “Censured Institutions” — the schools at which, we are solemnly told, no faculty should take a job — but which don’t command much attention. Surely other professional organizations have more clout?


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