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MLA, or the Merit of Laconic Academics

This is a Guest post by FormerCorr

Recently I wrote about the tensions bubbling up in US higher education, ahead of the annual conference of the Modern Languages Association. The point was that although high-profile debates about Israel/Palestine get more attention, more intense passions arise over the tensions between tenured “haves” and the vast armies of untenured teachers working on short-term contracts for low pay.

Some commentators noted that tenured staff who considered themselves radicals on issues of world importance were less interested in helping disadvantaged colleagues closer at home.

At the conference, winding to a close on Sunday January 12, the odd relationship between these two lines of controversy started to get more traction.

The conference devoted hours of time and attention debating conditions for academics in Gaza and the West Bank, with opposing panels drawing huge crowds. Meanwhile, a session on working conditions for non-tenured adjuncts was thinly attended.

Summing up the imbalance, and the prevailing rhetoric among MLA activists, one tweet hits a note of pitch-perfect sarcasm:

“Israel/Palestine is a simple problem with a clear solution. Stopping abusive employment practices at the institutions we govern is hard.”

A colleague replies:

“The last three months on Twitter in a nutshell”