The MLA office is a site of continual activity. The calendar year of a scholarly association like the MLA features thousands upon thousands of recurring activities: books, journals, and newsletters get published; meetings take place; elections are held. It’s the lifeblood of the association: members working on projects that advance our profession.
We launched two major initiatives in the past year: we reorganized the ways intellectual and pedagogical work is structured in the MLA, and we released a report on the future of doctoral education. The first item, the creation of a new structure to accommodate the changing interests of our members, was the first such undertaking since the 1970s. Most members saw the reimagined disciplinary mapping as a positive step, and they used the association’s scholarly network, MLA Commons, to provide significant input: describing the state of their scholarly fields and the shifts that have happened over the past four decades, as well as their thoughts on where their disciplines are headed. As a result, the MLA convention, which will use this new structure, should be an even more intellectually vibrant site of scholarly exchange.
The report of the task force on doctoral education represents the latest effort on the MLA’s part to analyze the state of graduate study and to make recommendations to departments on how they can best prepare students for successful future careers. This project was years in the making, and I have seen it grow in scope and in the potential implications it has for the disciplines of English and other languages. Recognizing that today’s academic system is unsustainable, the MLA urges a three-part approach: graduate programs should calibrate admissions with the support they can give to graduate students during their studies and in job placement, colleges and universities should provide sustainable working conditions for all faculty members, and PhD recipients should be prepared for a wide variety of careers. This report generated a great deal of support—and criticism. It opened up conversations about the purpose of graduate training in today’s world and touched on the anger of those whom the current system has failed.
This past year has also been one of continuing exploration and adventure. I traveled more than usual, including two trips to Western Canada, where I learned a great deal about what makes Canadian institutions of higher learning different from those in the United States. I was also exposed to First Nations linguistic history and diversity, something attendees at the MLA convention in Vancouver can experience for themselves.
I took a five-day vacation with the Audubon Society and the American Littoral Society to Cape Ann in Massachusetts, an area I’d never visited before. The group used Gloucester as its base as it explored the cape in search of wildlife in tidal-marsh estuaries and on the open sea. I also learned about shipbuilding: Essex was the producer of over four thousand schooners, many of which were used in the fishing trade. The shipbuilding tradition continues, as I experienced firsthand when I sailed on a schooner built by hand in Essex in 1997.
It’s tremendously important to intersperse leisure amid the long days at the MLA. That I continue to learn, experiment, question, and promote change means that my work provides a source of infinitely renewable creative energy. Now in my thirteenth year as executive director, I embrace renewal as an indispensable value.