MLA Statement on Judith Butler

August 31, 2018

Judith Butler, Maxine Elliot Professor of comparative literature and professor of critical theory of the University of California, Berkeley, and president-elect of the Modern Language Association, signed a controversial letter in support of a scholar accused of harassment that “runs counter to aspects of the MLA’s Statement of Professional Ethics" and to the MLA Executive Council’s legal duties of “care and loyalty” owed to the association. That’s what Anne Ruggles Gere, current MLA president and Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of English Language and Literature and the Gertrude Buck Collegiate Professor in the School of Education at the University of Michigan, wrote to MLA members this week. The letter follows calls for Butler to step down as the association’s president-elect for listing the MLA in her title when she signed a letter to New York University in support of a Avital Ronnell, a female professor of German literature suspended for harassing a former male graduate student (Ronnell, who is facing a related lawsuit, denies the allegations).

Butler has previously expressed regret for mentioning the MLA in the letter and for some of its arguments; the letter has been criticized as an example of victim-blaming. Paula Krebs, executive director of the MLA, has previously confirmed the the organization accepted her apology. Gere’s letter also says that MLA’s officers have accepted Butler’s apology. But it also acknowledges Butler’s specific policy violations, saying that the governing council “is a broadly representative, member-elected body, with no single member accorded any more decision-making power than any other, and no officer of the MLA speaks for the MLA unless expressly authorized to do so.” The MLA recognizes the “power disparity between faculty members and graduate students, and we affirm our strong commitment to graduate student rights and welfare and to academic professional rights and responsibilities. Those commitments will not change,” Gere said.

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