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Altac at the MLA

Shaun and I were at the Modern Language Association conference in Boston last week and I am happy to report that the conference was abuzz with discussions of the altac track. The session we organized was packed and well-received — with presentations by fabulous panelists. Two of them are available online — click here for Sarah Werner’s presentation and here for Brian Croxall’s. The session also received a nice writeup in the Chronicle of Higher Ed, while Inside Higher Ed covered another panel on alternative career paths (including faculty positions off the TT and/or outside of research institutions).

While the Twitter backchannel for all the altac sessions was lively, one observation in particular stood out for me — Daniel Powell’s provocative take on the “true” altac

[blackbirdpie url=”https://twitter.com/djp2025/status/287677174385893376″]

If the above is true — and at the various sessions I attended, the number given was that 20% of Ph.D.’s get tenure-track jobs — then Daniel is correct. Which is, I think, one reason why the discussion of how to reform graduate education in language and literature programs was also a hot topic at this year’s meeting. Scott Jaschik has a nice summary of a session chaired by Russell Berman here. As Jaschik notes, there was some resistance to Berman’s and the other panelists’ ideas, but also much support. Another session (that I unfortunately missed), included a presentation by Katina Rogers, of the UVa Scholars’ Lab, on why rebooting graduate education, starting with the following observation:

The report on the 2011 Survey of Earned Doctorates…presented the grim fact that 43% of doctoral recipients have no job or postdoctoral plan upon receiving their degree

43% is an amazing figure and one that demonstrates that traditional graduate education is failing our students. I was pleased to see such a focus on the profession and jobs at the MLA, including a historical all-adjunct Presidential Forum and a Presidential Address focusing on adjunct and contingent labor. For me, William Pannapacker’s assertion that there was a “stronger sense of solidarity than I remember feeling at any time in the past” (“The End of MLAlienation?”) at the MLA was indeed true. I only hope that it continues to be true in 2014 and beyond.


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  1. […] the MLA conference is than in years previous, but the conference held earlier this month was even better. It feels as if the profession is finally addressing the question of employment off the tenure […]