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Session Details

Thursday, 06 January

122. Why Can’t We Teach What We Are Trained to Teach? Program Consolidation, Elimination, Realignment

3:30–4:45 p.m., 408A, LA Convention Center

Program arranged by the MLA Delegate Assembly Organizing Committee

Presiding: Adelaide M. Russo, Louisiana State Univ., Baton Rouge

Speakers: Caroline D. Eckhardt, Penn State Univ., University Park; Sima N. Godfrey, Univ. of British Columbia; Margaret R. Higonnet, Univ. of Connecticut, Storrs; Brian Gordon Kennelly, California Polytechnic State Univ., San Luis Obispo; Teresa Mangum, Univ. of Iowa

This session will focus on ways to respond to what is happening to language and literature programs on campuses across the United States and Canada. To prepare the ground for discussion, we invite convention attendees and MLA members to use the comments feature in the online session listings on the MLA Web site to post accounts of the kinds of consolidations and reorganizations they are seeing at their institutions. People may include links to news articles and campus Web sites. These accounts will provide actual data for session participants to draw on so that time at the session can be used to explore constructive and creative ways to respond.

Author Comment
Subject: Personnel
I think this is a great topic for discussion at the MLA. I'm not sure it is a question so much of "why we are not teaching what we are trained to teach" as of the conception of the role of languages and literatures and of the humanities in general in the college or university curriculum. It seems that while it was once agreed that the humanties formed the basis or core of a "college" education that is increasingly not the case, for, among other reasons, financial ones. I think that we as senior faculty need to take a closer look at who we are hiring and at the policies of our individual universities and become more active and less complacent and accepting. There are, for example, vast numbers of individuals teaching at the college/university level in languages and literatures who do not possess the doctoral degree. (I am not including in this statement obviously MFA's or other writing professionals). What, then, happens to the way in which these disciplines are viewed within and without the university community? There are many individuals with doctoral degrees seeking employment. Surely, the case can easily be made. Senior faculty should simply not acquiesce to unreasonable demands on the part of administrators. Otherwise, why are you forming Ph.D.'s at all? Where will they work? And who will they teach? Even secondary teachers, it would seem, would profit from being taught by Ph.D.'s. In addition, in languages and literatures, we have a special task re: individuals from other world areas with different degrees and educational systems who then desire to work in the US. It is incumbent upon senior faculty to insure that these individuals have the appropriate degrees. For example, a degree in English linguistics might not qualify someone to teach advanced Spanish literature classes at the college or university level. (I might love psychology and have read in the field. That doesn't necessarily qualify me to be a university professor of psychology!) My experience suggests to me that many SENIOR FACULTY are simply too complacent and/or exhausted and/or feel that they have worked hard and now deserve the time to do their own research and/or have given up on the task of college and university education, when it is just such SENIOR FACULTY who with their experience, clout, contacts and connections must take a most active role in the definition and redefinitions of our fields at the college and university level. Demand that all faculty who are hired possess the doctoral degree at a minimum. That should be very easy. It is, however, something that the profession should be unified on. Stop hiring half-baked graduate students who should be adequately supervised (and, often, are not) and provided with the adequate time to do their doctoral work and/or retired high school teachers (not all, but some who have no interest in the field of study) and/or faculty with no training in the field (Russian teachers with master's degrees in Russian who are teaching other languages with no diplomas of any sort in the other language, for example). The tempatation is to always ask the people on the bottom of the ladder to do the work that senior faculty would rather avoid, but the definition of the profession requires the senior faculty to stop avoiding the issue and passing the buck. Otherwise, there will not be a department left.
Subject: Are we in such hard times that nobody has the time to comment?
Subject: Are we in such hard times that nobody has the time to comment?
Subject: Are we in such hard times that nobody has the time to comment?
Subject: Elaine's question about the place of languages
Is one of the topics we should address the need for language education in primary and secondary schools? Traditionally that was not the MLA's purview. But perhaps our language programs could build their connections to Schools of Education, in order to strengthen language skills at an age when they can be acquired most easily. When Harvard's president Rudenstine called for language study abroad, the university did not follow through. Elaine is right that we need to ask why languages and the humanities in general are not seen as practical. To put it simplistically, not having language skills can cost a nation involvement in many wars; and in a war, not having needed language skills can cost a soldier his (or her) life.
Subject: Suggested readings from the round table participants
Dear Colleagues, the goal of the session is to share information about the effects of the economic downturn on departments here and abroad and to learn about effective responses and innovations. We look forward to a rich group discussion.

To prepare, we invite you to do two things--

1. Below you will find links to several short articles on the current crisis, particularly on departments of languages and literatures. These offer points of departure for our discussion; we also welcome your reading recommendations.

2. In addition, please share news from your own institution here on our discussion page.

Recommended readings:

Rosemary G. Feal. “The World Beyond Reach.” Chronicle of Higher Education. 7 November 2010.

Stanley Fish. “The Crisis of the Humanities Officially Arrives.” NY Times. Opinion Pages. 11 October 2010.

Stanley Fish. “Crisis of the Humanities II.” NY Times. Opinion Pages. 18 October 2010.

Geoffrey G. Harpham (president and director of the National Humanities Center). “The Humanities at America’s Core.” in the The Raleigh News and Observer. 8 November 2010.

Christopher Newfield, “Avoiding the Coming Higher Ed Wars.” (“Myths about how research is funded and why the humanities are impoverished need to be overturned if public higher education is to thrive again in the United States.”) Academe Online 96.3 (May-June 2010).

Gregory A. Petsko. “A Faustian Bargain: An open letter to George M. Philip, President of the State University of New York at Albany.” Genome Biology 11:128. 31 October 2010.

Jim Sollisch. “Money Out the Fenêtre.” Wall Street Journal/Opinion Journal. 16 December 2010.

Russell Scott Valentino. “Translation and the Teaching of Literature.” Words without Borders (blog). Posted July 20, 2009.

Additional Resources:

4Humanities is a new advocacy organization led by digital humanities scholars. This page from their site gathers a number of sources that argue for the value of the humanities:

A British organization called Defend the Arts and Humanities offers pragmatic arguments for supporting the humanities:

Case Study:

Success in saving the Comparative Literature Centre at the University of Toronto (two model websites for information exchange, advocacy, and coalition building)

“Discussing the Academic Plan”

“In June, the Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Science, University of Toronto, as part of the Faculty’s Academic Plan, announced the disestablishment of the Centre for Comparative Literature effective July 1, 2011. The subsequent outpouring of protest has had an effect and the status of the Academic Plan has changed: The Centre for Comparative Literature will maintain its status as an independent unit.”
Subject: Hello and Goodbye?