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Proposal Overview and Frequently Asked Questions

Thank you for your participation. The proposal is closed to new comments. We invite you to learn more about the next steps in the process here.

Why revise now?

This is the first revision of the structure of the MLA’s divisions and discussion groups since 1974 (the previous revision occurred in the 1920s). We are thirteen years into a new century that is nowhere represented in the current structure. Responding to intellectual shifts over the last decades, the suggested changes create space for new fields and for reconceptualizations of traditional fields. We propose some name changes and consolidations and the addition of several subfields. Regular five-year reviews by the Program Committee, required by the Executive Council’s charge to the committee but not implemented on a regular basis until now, will ensure dynamic self-study and periodic renewal.

What principles drive the revisions?

Five priorities have guided the working group’s expansive approach to this revision:

  1. A commitment to the deep study of language, literature, and their histories
  2. The protection of small fields, including the study of less commonly taught languages
  3. The attempt to minimize hierarchies and exclusions among fields, large and small
  4. The aim to lessen the divide between English and foreign languages in the MLA
  5. The addition of new fields in emergent areas, to expand members’ access to MLA sessions and committees

The present structure is dominated by categories of nations and periods, mostly Eurocentric. To this map we have added new geographies and languages to reflect changes in curricula and scholarly commitments among our members. And we have tried to eliminate redundancies in group designations, creating a neater map, with no illusions of complete coverage or consistency across fields. The new map aims to provide various sites of intellectual engagement for each MLA member, whatever his or her area of specialization.

What are the most significant changes?

  1. For the sake of democratization and simplification, we propose eliminating the distinction between “discussion groups” and “divisions”: we propose that they all be called “forums.” Every forum will be guaranteed at least one session at every convention. Membership numbers—though not the size of audiences—will determine the number of additional guaranteed sessions a forum receives. As in the present structure, forums will normally have either one or two guaranteed sessions and will be able to compete for more. Please note that forums will retain all their guaranteed sessions during the transition period, even if they consolidate with other forums.
  2. MLA members will be able to renew their affiliations with these new stipulations in mind. Members will be able to join up to five forums and to change their affiliations once a year. Forums will have regular opportunities to study themselves, their histories, and their plans for the future during each five-year review process. Yes, the five-year renewal will create more work for elected representatives, but it will also create more chances to collaborate and consult with a forum’s members through MLA Commons. During each five-year review, the Program Committee will average the number of members for each forum and determine its number of guaranteed sessions for the next five-year cycle.
  3. We have divided the forums into nine broad categories: Languages, Literatures, and Cultures; Comparative Literary and Cultural Studies; Genre Studies; Media Studies; Rhetoric, Composition, and Writing Studies; Language Studies and Linguistics; Theory and Method; Transdisciplinary Connections; and Higher Education and the Profession. Forums are arranged alphabetically or chronologically within those categories. Categories are incorporated into forum names to eliminate redundancies under the old structure.
  4. We are proposing a new kind of session for the convention: a three-year seminar, a seminar on a topic of interest that would take place at three consecutive conventions. Proposals for three-year seminars will be invited and reviewed by the Program Committee.

What is the process for proposing and forming new forums, reviewing forums every five years, and proposing three-year seminars?

The Program Committee will be working out the details of these procedures during its next meetings. New procedures will be widely publicized. If you are interested in being part of the formation of the new forums we are proposing in the document, please volunteer in your comments during this review process.

How should I read the proposal?

The map presents a color-coded listing of forums. Black indicates established groups whose names have not changed significantly or whose name changes were approved by the group’s executive committee. Blue indicates name changes that have not yet been agreed on by executive committees. Green indicates reconfigured groups, formed by combining or dividing existing divisions and discussion groups. Orange indicates a new group and thus an invitation to members to propose it on a five-year trial basis. Please note that this code refers to the original division and discussion group structure and not to the first draft proposal.

Please comment frankly on the draft document, keeping in mind that all names can still be subject to revision.

Why doesn’t my allied organization appear on the list?

The proposed new structure applies only to divisions and discussion groups. Although allied organizations sponsor sessions at the MLA convention, they are independent of the association and have their own governance structure. A list of allied organizations and information about their relation to the MLA are available on the MLA Web site.

What kinds of comments will be most useful?

Please include a rationale for your suggestions about this draft proposal. We hope that, as you read and comment on the draft proposal, you will take the long view, in relation both to your own field and to our common interests as humanities educators. We ask you to think about future as well as present MLA members. Among these are graduate students and persons who work with languages and ideas not yet mentioned in the MLA’s official communications, including this one.

How do I comment on the proposal?

You must be a logged-in member of MLA Commons to leave comments on the proposal. To comment on a specific element of the proposal, click on the speech balloon to the right of the text. To discuss the overall proposal, click on “Comments on the whole page.” For more detailed instructions, please visit How to Participate.

What are the next steps?

Comments on this draft are open until 1 February. After we have collected your feedback here and at the open hearings at the 2014 convention, a revised proposal will go to the Executive Council in February 2014. At this meeting, the Executive Council will have a chance to review your suggestions and determine implementation.

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