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Posts by William Pannapacker

January 8, 2012, 09:09 PM ET

Pannapacker at MLA: Alt-Ac Is the Future of the Academy

By William Pannapacker



Alt-ac is the future of the academy. That’s what Elliott Shore, the director of libraries, CIO, and professor of history at Bryn Mawr, observed yesterday on the second of two panels at the MLA convention on alternative careers for humanities Ph.D.'s led by Sara Steger and Bethany Nowviskie. In the last 10 years, Shore observed, the number of tenure-track teaching positions has plummeted from one-third to one-fourth of the total.  What’s left: thousands of poorly compensated adjunct teaching positions.   One speaker, Donald Brinkman, who works for Microsoft Research said: “I left the humanities because I didn’t, like, want to be poor my whole life.” But for people with extensive humanities training who want to remain in the academy but don’t want to work as adjuncts, the alt-ac path is an option that more of them are exploring. That can ... Read More

December 30, 2009, 05:00 PM ET

The Ghost of MLA Future

MLA members are easily recognized, like NASCAR Dads. On my way to Philadelphia, I spotted a couple in the Grand Rapids airport, then several more in Detroit. By the time I arrived on Market Street, between Loew's and the Marriott, it was an MLA Mardi Gras, with ID-badge lanyards instead of beads.    

Apart from the well-known sumptuary regulations requiring that conference-goers dress primarily in black, white, navy, and gray, there were no obvious fashion trends on parade this year. No spiky shoes; no spiky hair. There were even fewer Foucault-clones: The glasses were less teeny; the heads less shaved. Depending on the panel -- and not just ones hosted by the Radical Caucus -- one could almost detect a proletarian feeling, given the number of blue jeans and old sweaters.  

Even so, something about MLA people seems dour, almost hostile, to strangers, even though we are members of the...

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December 30, 2009, 07:00 AM ET

The MLA and Academic Labor: From Marginality to Leadership

What a difference a decade can make. Little more than 10 years ago, graduate students and contingent faculty had little representation at the MLA. They felt disrespected in countless ways. The prevailing attitude among the tenured faculty was that "the cream rises to the top," and, if you can't find a decent job, you have no one to blame but yourself."  There was no sympathy for complainers. 

The crisis reached a peak in 1998 when the Graduate Student Caucus -- aided by Cary Nelson and Michael Bérubé, among several other faculty allies -- were able to draw the attention of the MLA membership to such matters as the erosion of tenure and academic freedom, the shift from full-time to part-time positions, and the shameful wages that were paid to adjuncts throughout academe. Suddenly the coverage of the MLA convention shifted from mocking ever-so-trendy paper titles to debates over whether a...

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December 28, 2009, 06:00 PM ET

The MLA and the Digital Humanities

Amid all the doom and gloom of the 2009 MLA Convention, one field seems to be alive and well: the digital humanities. More than that: Among all the contending subfields, the digital humanities seem like the first "next big thing" in a long time, because the implications of digital technology affect every field.

I think we are now realizing that resistance is futile. One convention attendee complained that this MLA seems more like a conference on technology than one on literature. I saw the complaint on Twitter.

Monday, there were sessions on "Locating the Literary in Digital Media," "Value Added: The Shape of the E-Journal," "Language Theory and New Communications Technologies," "Media Studies and the Digital Scholarly Present," "Getting Funded in the Humanities: An NEH Workshop," "Old Media and Digital Culture," "Web 2.0: What Every Student Knows That You Might Not," and "Looking for ...

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December 27, 2009, 07:00 PM ET

The Worst MLA Ever

It is official, confirmed by the Modern Language Association itself: This will be the worst year for academic job seekers in language and literature since the MLA started keeping records more than three decades ago. 

I hope you're not on the market this year. You may be good, but so are lots of other people. And the most important factor -- luck -- is beyond your control.    

I have been coming to these conventions since the early 90s, back when my entering cohort of graduate students was assured by nearly everyone that jobs would be opening up towards the end of that decade. 

And the situation did improve a little by the time I hit the market in 1998-99; the outlook was not desperate, just very bleak: At the time, there was, perhaps a 50 percent chance of a candidate ever joining the tenure-track after ten years or so of preparation. 

It was like a golden age, the late-90s.

There a...

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