Stepping Up for Part-Timers

The Radical Caucus wants the MLA to do more to protect the labor rights of grad students and adjuncts.
December 28, 2004

The Radical Caucus wants the Modern Language Association to ramp up its role in protecting the labor rights of part-time faculty members and graduate students.

At its annual meeting Wednesday, the MLA's Delegate Assembly will consider a motion sponsored by the caucus that would require the association to invest time and some financial resources in efforts to "reestablish basic labor rights for graduate employees and other term workers" -- adjuncts and other part-time instructors.

Specifically, the motion asks that the MLA work with other scholarly associations and labor groups to overturn a July 2004 ruling by the National Labor Relations Board that stripped graduate students at private universities of the right to unionize. That decision, in a case involving Brown University, reversed an NLRB ruling from four years earlier, when the panel was dominated by Clinton administration appointees.

The Radical Caucus motion, if approved by the Delegate Assembly, would direct the MLA to provide administrative and financial support for a conference, planned for 2006 by the Coalition of Contingent Academic Labor, aimed at overturning the NLRB ruling.

Richard Ohmann, an emeritus professor of English at Wesleyan University and a sponsor of the Radical Caucus motion, said it was designed both to put the MLA on record against the NLRB's stance and to continue the MLA's evolution from "just a learned society" to a "professional advocacy group as well."

"Plenty" of MLA members, Ohmann noted, don't believe that it should move in that direction, so vigorous debate about the Radical Caucus motion is expected.


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