MLA Delegate Assembly Spends Six Hours on Debate Over Ward Churchill and 30 Minutes Discussing Use of Part-time Faculty

The MLA is hurting financially. At the Philadelphia conference, the organization’s leadership voted to increase dues for the first time since 1993. I’d say 16 years of holding firm on a dues schedule was a pretty decent track record, and that certainly costs associated with running the organization have increased substantially since 1993. I’m guessing, for instance, staff salaries at the MLA have not been frozen for the past 16 years, and neither has the rent paid on the MLA headquarters, nestled snugly inside the old Standard Oil Building, built by John D. Rockefeller on lower Broadway near the Battery in New York City. 

This year’s Delegate Assembly, which began at 1 p.m., wasn’t the most raucus gathering, even if the leader of the MLA’s Radical Caucus was there. Grover Furr, like Loretta Lynn, was there ready to stand by his man Ward Churchill, well actually, as Furr put it: “We’re not really standing up for Ward Churchill here, we’re standing up for the First Amendment to the Constitution.” How quaint. The MLA is an association focused on the humanities, not the interpretation of the Constitution or the Constitutional amendments. It’s moments like this when I have to say that the MLA is made to look buffoonish, self-important and silly in the eyes of the general public. A bunch of English professors vigorously debating the First Amendment. Maybe over at the Association of Legal Eagles we could have a rousing debate on the use of Beowulf in the courtroom? The resolution at hand was one condemning the University of Colorado for firing tenured professor Ward Churchill.

Everyone take out your dead horses and begin beating vigorously.

You won’t be shocked to learn that the MLA Delegate Assembly then spent a whopping 30 minutes talking about the financial exploitation contingent faculty. By then, so many delegates had slipped out of the room to go to a wine and cheese tasting somewhere, anywhere, the Delegate Assembly was left without a quorum. So the remaining delegates professed their undying love for and support of those of the contingent persuasion, and no resolution was able to be passed. 

So what is the answer to this insulting six-hour comedy that focuses on the dismissal of one Ward Churchill versus what I believe is the wholesale massacre of thousands of non-tenured faculty thanks to non-continuing appointment clauses in their contracts? First of all, the MLA’s Executive Director was recently quoted in the New York Times as impugning the quality of instruction delivered by thousands of her own association’s members. If you are a faculty member off the tenure-track and have been a member of the MLA for two years, run for office at the next possible opportunity. It’s time that the make-up of the association’s Executive Committee changed drastically to reflect the change within higher education. Next, if you are a non-tenured faculty member, and belong to the MLA, withhold your dues this year in protest of Feal’s patently absurd condemnation of non-tenured faculty. Send a letter to the membership office letting them know exactly why you are choosing to sit it out this year. Feal has no business making such pronouncements, and the Executive Committee has no business letting her do so, or sitting by after the fact and doing nothing Unless, of course, the entire Executive Committee agrees with her, in which case they need to be re-educated and replaced. 

The MLA relies on thousands of faculty off the tenure-track to butter their bread. Repaying the professional and financial support of thousands of members who hold non-tenured appointments with a public slap in the face is inexcusable and demonstrates incredible hubris on not only Feal’s part, but that of the MLA’s Executive Committee, as well.

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Linkedin
  • Pinterest

5 Comments

  1. Our college would not run without adjuncts. There are probably 4 adjuncts for every 1 full-time faculty. Being among the ranks of the greater number . . . we are left out and overlooked. No benefits and low pay = no respect and no voice.

  2. Berube and his fellow wine and cheese tasters have been spewing the same rhetorical nonsense for way too long. Instead of dealing with practical issues like the poor writing skills of students, the financial exploitation and professional downgrading of adjuncts, the MLA inflates incidents like the Churchill situation because the organization is a paper tiger.It barks, produces documents and adjourns. They are psychologically frustrated because the real power lies with the administrators, board of regent and donors. If they continue being impractical, its membership will move from dining on wine and cheese to Diet Coke and delicacies from the vending machines.

  3. Repaying the professional and financial support of thousands of members who hold non-tenured appointments with a public slap in the face is inexcusable and demonstrates incredible hubris on not only Feal’s part, but that of the MLA’s Executive Committee, as well.

    I wonder whether this remark — or this post — could possibly be more wrongheaded. As Doug Hesse noted above, there was no such “slap in the face”: the reason the Delegate Assembly didn’t engage in a marathon discussion of contingent labor is that the resolution in support of contingent faculty passed overwhelmingly. This statement, therefore–

    You won’t be shocked to learn that the MLA Delegate Assembly then spent a whopping 30 minutes talking about the financial exploitation contingent faculty. By then, so many delegates had slipped out of the room to go to a wine and cheese tasting somewhere, anywhere, the Delegate Assembly was left without a quorum. So the remaining delegates professed their undying love for and support of those of the contingent persuasion, and no resolution was able to be passed.

    –is not only stunningly meanspirited (wine and cheese tastings? really? why not mock MLA members for driving Volvos and drinking vanilla lattes as well?) but completely and utterly wrong.

    The MLA strongly supports greater job security, higher wages, and due process rights for contingent faculty. Its Academic Workforce Advocacy Kit can be found here: http://www.mla.org/advocacy_kit. No good purpose is served by misrepresenting the positions of the MLA or the actions of the Delegate Assembly. Nor is this website serving any good purpose when it deliberately misrepresents people who insist that adjunct labor is overused and exploited by cost-cutting institutions — by pretending that such people are actually impugning adjunct faculty themselves rather than objecting to the conditions under which they work.

  4. As a member of the MLA Committee on Contingent Labor in the Profession, I have quite a different take on Lesko’s representation of MLA efforts regarding contingent faculty, especially the reductive equation of time spent in the Delegate Assembly vs. Real Efforts. In fact, the resolution quickly passed by that assembly in support of improving conditions for contingent faculty rather signals the degree of agreement and resolve within the organization. We agree pretty much without dissent on these matters. Furthermore, delegate assembly actions are the tiniest tip of a larger iceberg; our committee, which has contingent faculty members, has deliberated dozens of hours in the past year, working on both broad and specific charges, making recommendations to the MLA Executive Committee, some of which have been enacted. So, it’s wrong to characterize the organization as dismissive or not paying attention. As a final aside, I’ll note that every thing I’ve read or heard from Rosemary Feal has recognized the abilities and skills of contingent faculty. I’ve not read that particular issue of the times, but the characterization of her remarks in this blog is quite at odds with my clear sense of her stance.

  5. I agree. Having been a “contingent” migrant worker in the fields of academia for the past few years, and as I see more and more undergraduate and general education responsibilities heaped on the backs of adjuncts without fair compensation, as more classroom choices and decisions are being taken away from adjuncts, as more institutions incorporate this exploitative labor practice as part of their business plan, is it time to form a national union or align with a union whose voice will be heard? Is there the courage out there for this?

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This div height required for enabling the sticky sidebar
Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!
Ad Clicks : Ad Views :