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Faculty Group Leaks MLA Jobs List in Dispute Over Free Access

A group of professors who think that everyone should have free, direct access to the Modern Language Association’s job listings says it’s tired of waiting for the association to tear down its paywall.

So it has posted a site, called MLAjobleaks.com, that takes users directly to those lists, and it’s asking faculty members to keep the information flowing.

Leaders of the MLA say the group, whose members have remained anonymous, are misleading people. Everyone who completed a graduate degree in English or a foreign language can gain access to the job-information list by following the instructions on the MLA’s Web site, said Rosemary G. Feal, executive director of the association. “What you’re hearing out there is someone not knowing how to access the list or not agreeing with our model,” she said.

David Parry, an assistant professor of emerging media at the University of Texas at Dallas who has blogged about the controversy, isn’t buying that. “If it was open to anyone, why would there be a paywall?” he said. “By definition, a paywall is meant to exclude people.”

Unlike groups like the American Historical Association, which opens its jobs listings to anyone, the MLA grants access to departments of English and foreign languages that belong to the Association of Departments of English or the Association of Departments of Foreign Languages, groups housed under the MLA. Ms. Feal said that about 440 of the approximately 500 Ph.D.-granting departments in MLA fields belong to those groups.

Member departments in turn extend access to faculty members and to current and former students, she said. Free PDF copies of the jobs list are also available five times a year, including twice in the months before the MLA’s annual convention.

People without academic institutional access can subscribe to the jobs list by paying to become affiliate members, which costs $40 for MLA members and $65 for nonmembers.

Mr. Parry argued that plenty of people still miss out, including scholars in fields like media studies and American studies who might want to apply for jobs in English. He also said the MLA had not explained clearly enough how faculty members could view the listings. “The MLA is counting on the idea that graduate institutions will provide access to everyone, which is clearly not happening,” he wrote on his blog.

In an exchange on Facebook, Chad Black, an associate professor of early Latin American history at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, asked why the MLA did not open the database up completely. “It seems like the MLA is making this needlessly complicated to protect revenue streams,” he wrote.

Kathleen Fitzpatrick, the MLA’s director of scholarly communication, responded to the post, agreeing that such an approach would be simpler in the short run. “The issue is that the subscription has for years (decades, really) been one of the core member benefits of joining ADE/ADFL, and the organizations—like many member organizations—have cause to worry that if they make member benefits totally open to the world, the impetus to join disappears.”

Scholarly associations rely heavily on such income at a time when full-time faculty positions are being cut and less money is available for conference travel.

In an e-mail interview with The Chronicle, Mr. Black said the association would better serve the disciplines by continuing to charge for placing ads but not for viewing them. “Job seekers have a hard-enough time as it is in the academic market,” he wrote.

Mr. Parry, who wrote on his blog that he was not the “mastermind” behind the leaked-jobs site, said that while the MLA described access to the jobs database as a service for members, the association “has set itself up as the primary knowledge broker in the trafficking of information about jobs.”

“This isn’t a service,” he argued. “This is holding information hostage.”

(See a related article: Market for Full-Time Language Jobs Improves Again but Still Lags Behind Pre-Recession Levels)

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