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.

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