Good News for MLA’s Stepchildren

For the first time in almost 20 years, there are likely to be more full-time jobs in 2012-13 for foreign-language scholars than for people with Ph.D.’s in English, according to the Modern Language Association.

What else can I say but CHEERS! Read the rest of the article. It will make you feel like it’s Christmas already.

People in English lit: please don’t get offended. Let us enjoy our turn for once. Maybe we will finally get a few good conference spots at the MLA and will stop feeling like the MLA’s stepchildren.

6 thoughts on “Good News for MLA’s Stepchildren

  1. As a faculty member in English Literature, I agree that this is good news! 🙂 My only worry is about the status of literary study (in any language) at the university level. As you discussed in your post about your changing department name, increasingly schools are turning away from teaching foreign literatures in favor of teaching classes that emphasize “practicality.” (At my institution, we have eliminated nearly all foreign literature classes and have added things like “Spanish for the Business World” and “Spanish for the Medical Professions.) And if it’s true that there is a trend for high schools to reduce English classes to only 30% fiction and poetry and 70% “practical” literature, then I just worry about literary study in the country in general. But for now, I will celebrate the news from MLA with you. Do you know if the ads or the jobs emphasize literary study?

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    1. “At my institution, we have eliminated nearly all foreign literature classes and have added things like “Spanish for the Business World” and “Spanish for the Medical Professions.”

      – We are doing the same thing! And the most disturbing part of it to me is that this is not promoted by the administration. It is being done and promoted exclusively by colleagues, other scholars of literature. These are all good, kind, wonderful, intelligent people who are destroying the literature program and turning us into a language school. I haven’t yet figured out what their motivation is.

      Our course catalogue is like a graveyard of literature. There are many wonderful literature courses that used to be taught but are not any longer. So I decided to restore them back to existence secretly. This is my new secret plan. I have conspired with the administration to restore the literature courses behind everybody’s backs. The administration supports me completely, believe it or not. It is my own colleagues I’m hiding from as I’m doing this because it is much easier to discuss this with the administration than to convince other scholars of literature that it’s OK to teach literature at a university. And these are not people who hate literature, or anything. They are very productive, brilliant research scholars. So it isn’t any sort of a psychological resentment against the field that is driving them. It must be something different that I’m still not seeing.

      As you can guess from the length of this rant, this is a sore point with me. If I hadn’t seen this with my own eyes, I would never believe it. I really like this university, I don’t want to leave it. But if we become a language school, I will have to.

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      1. Wow. Bravo to your adminsitration! I didn’t think I would ever write a sentence like that in my whole life! 😉 Do you know why your colleagues are so concerned about teaching literature? Are they worried about enrollment?

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        1. “Do you know why your colleagues are so concerned about teaching literature?”

          – This is the mystery I’m trying to solve. For now, my working explanation is that many of my colleagues who are native speakers believe that if one’s language skills are not 100% perfect, that person is not ready to study literature. So they heap on grammar, conversation and vocabulary courses because the students (even those who are native speakers) still make an occasional language mistake here or there. Since we will never get their Spanish to an absolutely perfect level (I mean, how many people do you know whose English is absolutely ideal?), we will never reach the stage of offering literature courses.

          My colleague who is a non-native speaker of Spanish and I are trying to advance the idea that literature courses can actually be used to improve one’s language skills. But it’s very hard to argue with native speakers about their language. In every Foreign Languages department, there is this divide between native and non-native speakers.

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      2. Well at my university, _none_ of our faculty are native speakers. And they all advocate for non-literary courses. (Not that this discounts your experience: I’m just interested in this topic so I’m sharing.) Our faculty promote this idea that somehow literature courses won’t be “relevant” the students. How often are our students going to discuss a book with someone they ask? “Relevant” is the word I keep hearing. Since I’m not in their department, I don’t argue. But like I said above, I get worried about the trend this suggests more largely. In my field, I see this divide between literary study and the field of “Rhetoric and Composition.” The Composition folks are always talking about “relevancy” and actually saying that students should not study “old” literature. It’s astounding and makes me sputter with rage.

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        1. Yes, this feeling that students will necessarily hate all literature courses and write horrible evaluations as a result is definitely there. And this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy because if you come into the classroom feeling apologetic about your material and expecting the students to hate the course, they will probably hate the course. It seems like many people in our field lack the inner conviction that what we do is very valuable.

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