With over 30,000 members, the Modern Language Association is one of the largest academic organizations in the world, filling its ranks primarily with professors of literature working at U.S. colleges and universities. Founded in 1883 to promote "the study and teaching of language and literature," the MLA interprets that charter broadly, as can be seen from the resolutions being considered by the group's membership. For a resolution to be put to a vote, a member need only gather between 10 and 25 signatures from active members (depending on the time of year); in recent years, says an MLA official, total ballots cast have usually numbered between 5,000 and 10,000, depending on the "interest level" of the members.
Members will vote on four resolutions this spring including one that states "Whereas higher education seeks to promote a vital intellectual community that represents diverse points of view and diverse experiences…Be it resolved that members of the Modern Language Association support the inclusion of disability as a value in academic hiring."
"Whereas, despite a falling crime rate," states another of the resolutions, "a racially structured system of forced labor is developing in the U.S. prison system; inmates perform `outsourced' work often at less than the minimum wage; impoverished white working-class rural areas become economically dependent upon the incarcerations of largely African American, Latino, and Native American populations; and this development is justified by a rhetoric of `getting tough on crime,' although in reality it reveals that the capitalist system cannot provide full employment at a living wage and that it promotes a politics of divide and conquer….Whereas a recent Rand study shows that more money will soon be spent nationally on prisons than on education, and the New York Times (28 Sep. 1997) reports that in California almost the exact amount of funding lost to higher education (1990-97) has been expended on prisons; and…workfare has driven thousands of students–disproportionately students of color and single parents–out of bachelor's degree programs and into dead-ended, poorly compensated employment; and Whereas standardized tests contribute to racial segregation by frequently tracking low-income students, disproportionately of color, into vocational programs and community colleges and higher income students, predominantly white, into `flagship' campuses; Be it resolved that the MLA urge its members to (1) speak out against the diversion of public funds from education to prisons and expose the failures of the current socioeconomic system, rather than rampant `criminality,' as the reason for the trend toward mass incarceration; (2) support affirmative action, urge limited use of standardized tests as admissions criteria, and support the continuation of developmental programs; (3) call for government-supported programs guaranteeing that no student be forced out of college to perform workfare."
Ballots will be counted after June 1, and results will be announced sometime afterward.