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The MLA has absolutely no idea of the state of the English workplace

November 17, 2011

I look, each year, to the MLA conference with a sense of expectation saturated with dread…perhaps this will be the year, like a forelorn Cubs fan, that the MLA will pull their collective head our of their collective (insert orifice of choice) and address a matter that actually, well, matters.

This year, I was not disappointed.  That is, the MLA, once again, disappointed.

The e-mail note popped into my box, and I hurriedly clicked the link Council Statement on Student Debt.

Here is what I found:

Public attention has been directed recently to the educational debt students accumulate in the course of undergraduate, as well as graduate, study. A major contributing factor has been the increasing portion of educational costs students must bear in the form of loans. To reduce debt burdens in the future, we call on Congress, state legislatures, and institutions of higher education to calibrate educational costs and student aid in ways that will keep student debt within strict limits. We also call on them to hold in check tuition increases, which often far outpace inflation, and to ensure that degree programs allow for timely completion.

I am going to take a few minutes to parse this statement down a bit.  To begin, why begin in such an apologetic manner… “public opinion” thinks debts are too high, so we are going to issue a strongly worded statement.  OR, perhaps they could have stated what the MLA thinks–student dept is crippling our workforce, and it shall not be tolerated! (Does the keyboard at the MLA Executive Council even have an exclamation mark?)

So, after noting that the issue is of public notice (or explaining why they are finally issuing a statement–due to the embarrassing nature of public pressure, we will issue a strongly worded statement), we get a causal argument as to what the public has noted: students take out loans that are really high–sorry, they don’t say that.  They say a major factor is that students cover more of their educational costs through loans.  If this were a freshman essay, I would critique and point out that their argument has not been properly delineated.    How does the proposition that students use loans to cover more of their expenses show/demonstrate anything?  What are we talking about here?  Where is the thesis?

The thesis lies in the third sentence, buried in the phrase “debt burdens.”  Oh, the debt, incurred by students to cover their educational costs (nothing has been stated/shown that these costs have risen in a disproportionate manner than earlier generations, inflation, other standards of measure–any of which would show that it is a new and unique burden) burdens the students in some undefined way.

So, with an inferred thesis about student debt, they offer a “solution”: tell the government to “calibrate” costs with educational institutions.  Really?  Their solution is to ask the government (both state and federal) to balance a budget?  And they ask institutions to freeze or reduce tuition?  Why not ask for a pony for Christmas while they are at it?

As a “statement,” I give the MLA Executive Council a failing grade.  They should know, and write, better.

Where are the comments/observations on the saturated job markets due, in no small part, to graduate programs producing a glut of graduates–to such an extent that the numbers far outpace the available positions something like 10:1?  Where are the calls for the old guard, which were supposed to retire en masse in the 1990’s, to retire and open up positions?  Where are the calls for better working conditions for all of the adjuncts that, through their low-wage, high-work, institutionally-important, low-level classes keep programs/institutions afloat?

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