I have been a member of your organization for the last decade. Paying my dues while in graduate school was a sacrifice, but I kept up with them because I valued the work you do for the profession. Not only that, but I've contributed to the life of the organization and the profession by presenting on panels at several different annual conventions.
To date, I remain a member in good standing, but I renewed my membership this year primarily because I wanted access to the Job Information List. Sadly, once I finished graduate school and was no longer still a "student," I had to quit my job as an adjunct because I couldn't support myself on the salary and could no longer, in good faith, take handouts from my family. Indeed, had I not had a supportive partner and family, I may well have faced the prospect of food stamps while an adjunct. Choosing to take a nonacademic position was a no-brainer, but, at the same time, I'm still on the fence about whether I want to pursue a career as a professor. At the very least, I wanted to take a good look at this year's JIL, decide if there were any positions for which I seemed a good enough "fit" to apply, and, if there were, go ahead and apply for them.
So, when I finally made my way over to your website today and logged in, I was extremely disappointed and exasperated to find the following statement posted:
I was already well aware of how individual institutions privilege affiliation, but why, when you allow me to join the MLA as an "independent scholar," do I need FURTHER affiliation to access the JIL? At the time that I renewed my membership for 2011 at a cost of $70, I was NOT informed that I would have to pay MORE, an additional $80 (!), to have access to the JIL. I identified myself at the time as an "independent scholar" (I could have lied) and, given that dues are progressive and based on income, I was honest about choosing the appropriate income category (again, I could have lied). There was NOTHING about having to join an ADDITIONAL professional organization -- for a profession about which I already have serious misgivings -- in order to view an MLA resource.Beginning in August, if you are not in a member department, you may join ADE [Association of Departments of English] as an affiliate member to receive access to the JIL.
I can only conclude that the MLA is choosing to reinforce its complicity with the system of contingent faculty serfdom that plagues this profession. As long as we continue to work as adjunct serfs, the MLA is more than willing to gift us with the privileges of "affiliation." But challenge the hierarchy and the system by opting out, and oops! Sorry!! No more JIL for you!!! You must have given up. Only people who still BELIEVE are welcome. You must BELIEVE enough in The Profession to sacrifice your dignity and well-being, and perhaps then we will condescend to offer you a MERE LOOK at the list of this year's jobs, many of which you are more than qualified for but none of which you will ever be a good enough "fit" to have.
Really, what does the "privilege" of viewing the JIL do for us anyway but reinforce the delusion that, this year, there is "hope," that, this year, all is not "bleak" -- that, this year, we might find the "right" job for which we are the perfect "fit," and that, indeed, this year offers ever so much more promise for a better future in the profession than last year did?
If MLA leadership really cared about EVERYONE in this profession and not just those within the tenure system, they would be encouraging adjuncts to do just what I've done and walk away -- that is, until pay and working conditions improve. They would be more actively promoting alternative careers for Ph.D.s. They would be seriously involved in supporting efforts to shrink graduate programs.
But what would happen if more of us -- if large numbers of us -- were to "just say no" to disgracefully low pay, no job security, no benefits, and no opportunities for promotions and raises despite good performance? What would happen is that compensation for ALL faculty positions would have to become more competitive, that the tenure system would have to be reevaluated and made more just, and that both universities and our society more generally would have to reckon more seriously with the REAL costs of higher education.
All of which would mean publicly questioning the myth of meritocracy that props up the current system of rank and privilege. After all, how would those on the tenure track know just how special they were if it weren't for the bilious masses on the adjunct track who, year after year after pathetic year, look hopefully to the JIL, like Tantalus, for the fruit of respectable employment that is forever out of reach?
So, what am I going to do? Am I going to pay the extra $80 to join the ADE? I don't know. I will probably, at the very least, take a good, hard look at the postings at Inside Higher Ed first. And you know what else? I figured I'd just continue to renew my dues every year, at least until I figured out what this business of being an "independent scholar" meant for my post-academic life, but fuck that, MLA. Don't count on me to renew my membership and waste even more money on dues in 2012.