For those of you unfamiliar with it, the MLA (Modern Language Association) is the main professional organization for scholars of languages and literature in the northern hemisphere. It has about 30,000 members worldwide, making it one of the largest scholarly professional organizations in the world. Every year, it holds an annual convention, during which schools conduct interviews, affiliated professional organizations meet (such as sub-groups related to a specific kind or era or literature), and over 800 sessions are held in which scholars present their work. Typically, 7,000-8,000 people attend the conference each year.
Interviewing at the Modern Language Association national convention has become something of a discussion topic this year because travels tends to be very high cost, and because these costs are often borne, with little or no support, by graduate students making adjunct wages. There has been some misdirected rhetoric about conference costs and the MLA’s benefit from them (the MLA tends to just break even; see Michael Bérubé’s FB post about it), and the MLA does provide up to $300 of support for graduate students, but the issue of high costs for conference travel is still a very real one.
So I’m going to contribute to this discussion by posting my own costs here, as I’ll be attending the conference in January. My costs so far:
MLA convention registration: $230
MLA membership: $120
Passport (the convention is in Canada): $184.85
Of course I have not yet included the costs of food and cabs, and the passport cost is a little high because I ordered rush processing and FedEx shipment. If I had planned a little more ahead the passport would only cost $120, but I think you see that costs are adding up quickly. And, of course, how many students are only getting passports because they are traveling to the convention?
A number of solutions have been suggested. Some say graduate institutions should support student travel and others say we should interview by Skype instead. Bérubé’s Facebook post linked above provides some good history: the MLA interview was created so that hiring in language and literature positions didn’t get reduced to a good old boys’ network. So are we ready to dispense with the MLA interview? I see good reasons for it, but I don’t know. The decision, ultimately, has nothing to do with the MLA itself: each individual school chooses how it runs its interviews. And many schools are going to Skype sessions, phone interviews, or post-conference interview schedules.
Check out Rebecca Shuman’s MLA Cost Project Survey if you want to contribute to the discussion and read her blog introducing it. She started up the cost project survey after hearing about an MLA interview offer being withdrawn when the interviewee asked if the interview could be conducted by Skype.