MLA Steps Up Higher Ed Change Advocacy With New Report

MLA Task Force Report

The Modern Language Association has a new report out today that contains recommendations on the future of graduate study in the humanities. The 40-page report is the result of a study conducted by a specially-convened MLA Task Force on Doctoral Study in Language and Literature.

The study was underwritten by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Lots of good recommendations. Some I agree with, some I don’t. Either way, I’m glad to see the MLA getting more involved in advocacy for change in higher ed. Having been a part of the presidential address in 2013, I can say with certainty that MLA executives and leaders do want to help; it’s just a matter of knowing how to best use their resources and influence. This new task force and its findings are a good step in the right direction.

The report summary boils down to these main bullet points:

  • Redesign the doctoral program.
  • Engage more deeply with technology.
  • Reimagine the dissertation.
  • Reduce time to degree.
  • Strengthen teaching preparation.
  • Expand professionalization opportunities.
  • Use the whole university community.
  • Redefine the roles of faculty advisers.
  • Validate diverse career outcomes.
  • Rethink admissions practices.

Check out the executive summary of the report for a more detailed explanation of each of these recommendations.

More coverage at The Chronicle of Higher Education and Inside Higher Ed.

One Comment

  1. These distinguished professors:

    Carlos J. Alonso, Columbia University

    Russell A. Berman (chair), Stanford University

    Sylvie Debevec Henning, East Carolina University

    Lanisa Kitchiner, Smithsonian National Museum of African Art

    Bethany Nowviskie, University of Virginia

    Elizabeth Schwartz Crane, San Joaquin Delta College, CA

    Sidonie Ann Smith, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

    Kathleen Woodward, University of Washington, Seattle

    Staff Liaisons

    Kathleen Fitzpatrick, director, MLA Office of Scholarly Communication

    David Laurence, director, MLA Office of Research and ADE

    produced the Report of the MLA Task Force on Doctoral Study in Modern Language and Literature (2014)

    Here are the Works Cited in the Report

    “Academic Workforce Advocacy Kit.” Modern Language Association. MLA, n.d. Web. 7 Apr. 2014. . Not a work of scholarship of doctoral studies.

    Bok, Derek. “We Must Prepare Ph.D. Students for the Complicated Art of Teaching.” The Chronicle of Higher Education. Chronicle of Higher Educ., 11 Nov. 2013. Web. 8 Apr. 2014. Newspaper article

    Bridging the Higher Education Divide: Strengthening Community Colleges and Restoring the American Dream. The Century Foundation. Century Foundation, 2013. Web. 27 Mar. 2014. Not a work of scholarship of doctoral education.

    Cohen, Walter. “The Economics of Doctoral Education in Literature.” PMLA 155.5 (2000): 1164–87. Web. 8 Apr. 2014. Not
    a work of scholarship, so much as analysis of the status quo in
    doctoral education. Tangential to rethinking doctoral education which
    is the task of the task force.

    Curtis, John W. The
    Employment Status of Instructional Staff Members in Higher Education,
    Fall 2011. American Association of University Professors. AAUP, Apr. 2014. Web. 8 Apr. 2014. . Not a work of scholarship of doctoral study.

    Doctorate Recipients from U.S. Universities, 2011. National Science Foundation. Natl. Science Foundation, Dec. 2012. Web. 27 Mar. 2014. Not a work of scholarship of doctoral education.

    Doctorate Recipients from U.S. Universities, 2012. National Science Foundation. Natl. Science Foundation, Jan. 2014. Web. 27 Mar. 2014. Not a work of scholarship of doctoral education.

    Issues and Directions: Non-Tenure-Track Faculty Members in English and Other Modern Languages. ADE Bulletin 53–ADFL Bulletin 42.3 (2013): 1–97. Web. 7 Apr. 2014. Not a work of scholarship of doctoral education.

    Report on the MLA Job Information List, 2012–13. Modern Language Association. MLA, Oct. 2013. Web. 22 Apr. 2014. Not a work of scholarship of doctoral education.

    Smith,
    Sidonie. Report to the MLA Executive Council from the Working Group on
    the Dissertation and Doctoral Education. 22 May 2010. TS. Not a work of scholarship of doctoral study.

    Troop, Don. “Research Universities Are Praised for Returning Focus to Undergrad Education.” The Chronicle of Higher Education. Chronicle of Higher Educ., 12 Nov. 2013. Web. 8 Apr. 2014. Newspaper source.

    Why isn’t The formation of scholars: Rethinking doctoral education for the 21st Century from the five year Carnegie Initiative on the Doctorate
    (CID) cited? The MLA task force knows of the CID, because a CID
    program is used as an example in the appendix. The how-to reform your
    doctoral program book that came out of the CID ought to be considered if
    not foundational to this task force. The work by Damrosch, Golde, Lovitts, McAlpine, Thomson & Kamler, Ziolkowski, Nettles and Millet, Jones, Watts,
    etc and a literature review of doctoral study as framed by the MLA over
    time ought to sling some ink in the report. Looking at The Future of the PhD in the Humanities report could save reinventing the wheel and show some awareness of the field of doctoral studies.

    Ignorance shines through in the works cited for this task force. The
    recommendations in the MLA report while long past due, play catch-up
    with decades of neglect. If deans and doctoral program providers look
    at the report for help, they will see many great recommendations, that
    appear like bells and whistles, extra to a determination of what is and
    isn’t serving students in the program. For that read The Formation of
    Scholars. Is the MLA just picking up certain trends that are going
    around doctoral programs and wrapping them together to make a report.
    It’s time to install a more granular approach to doctoral education
    which asks doctoral educators and students to join together with others
    in examining their programs. The insights gleaned at the program level
    will then be captured to a scholarship of doctoral studies that
    speaks to ongoing growth, testing, and change in the formation of
    scholars. The doctoral education of the future should always be iterating.

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