New Face of the MLA

Modern Language Association taps Paula Krebs, dean at Bridgewater State and longtime humanities advocate, as new executive director.

June 6, 2017
Paula Krebs

Paula Krebs, dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at Bridgewater State University in Massachusetts, will be the Modern Language Association’s new executive director starting in August, the group announced Tuesday.

Krebs takes over for Rosemary Feal, MLA’s longtime executive director, who announced her plans to step down from the position last year.

“Paula Krebs is a scholar of demonstrated passion and commitment, dedicated to articulating the value of the humanities, supporting academic standards and strengthening the professional standing of all those who teach and work in humanities-related fields,” Diana Taylor, MLA president and University Professor of Performance Studies and Spanish at New York University, said in a statement.

Krebs is a scholar of English who was a tenured professor at Wheaton College in Massachusetts for two decades before moving on to administration and, eventually, Bridgewater State.

At Bridgewater, she worked with faculty members on strategic planning and sought to increase community engagement. A longtime advocate for the humanities who has served on MLA’s Executive Council, Krebs organized a regional consortium of employers, public humanities representatives and academic leaders to develop strategies for defining and measuring the postgraduation success of humanities majors. She has also worked to promote the idea that students earning doctorates in the humanities should be prepared for careers at regional public universities and community colleges, not just at elite institutions.

Prior to leaving Wheaton, she worked as special assistant to the president for external relations. She’s served as an American Council on Education fellow in the president’s office of the University of Massachusetts and has written op-eds for Inside Higher Ed. Here’s a 2016 piece on the importance of hard data in communicating the value of a humanities degree to the public. She also wrote a series of columns on teaching issues with her sister, then a community college instructor (and now assistant dean of students at Rutgers University at Camden).

Krebs said Monday that she’s “especially interested in fostering deeper public understanding of the value of the humanities” in her future with the MLA. Projects such as the association’s language enrollment census “make the impact of studying and teaching the humanities tangible, not only to students but also to their parents, to legislators and to employers,” she said. “Bringing attention to the vital work humanities practitioners do is crucial for improving the working conditions for those teaching the humanities, so often in insecure contingent positions.”

Asked what the role of MLA is in 2017, Krebs said it’s “to ensure its members can do their jobs.”

“We support them so that the humanities will remain an important and vibrant part of our communities,” she said, “and so that future generations can bring critical analysis, language mastery and writing skills to bear on their civic and professional lives.”

Anne Ruggles Gere, professor of English and education at the University of Michigan and chair of the MLA’s executive director search committee, said that when she and her colleagues began looking for a replacement for Feal, they hoped to find someone who would bring broad perspective to the organization.

Krebs “does exactly that,” Gere said in a statement. “Her commitment to supporting all members of our profession; her experience working with partners from the community, government and business; and her advocacy of the value of humanities study will be vital to her work at the MLA.”

Feal, a scholar of Spanish and MLA’s executive director since 2002, has championed second-language education, non-tenure-track faculty issues, digital initiatives such as the Humanities Commons, and expanding notions of the humanities work force. She said this week that she’s long known Krebs as “an imaginative and committed leader,” whose term on the Executive Council left lasting good effects.

“I deeply admire her role as a public advocate for the humanities,” Feal said. Krebs “has such a wide range of experience in private and public institutions, which will serve the MLA well.”


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