Finally, I have a reason to use Google+. Here's a ranty something I want to say that's too long for Twitter, not right for my blog, and which would just alarm my mother on Facebook. Sadly, our topic for today is "Occupy MLA."

A colleague from another institution emailed me after I retweeted a sharp critique of the #omla project, to ask what I found so distasteful about it. I thought I'd share roughly what I said to him. (Another asked if we weren't all feeding the trolls. I think in fact that the overall community, while disappointed and offended, seems to see this as a "teachable moment," and that's the spirit in which I'm offering these comments.)

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"Distasteful" (I wrote) was not my own word -- I was re-tweeting Whitney Trettien's commentary on their recent statements about "labor" & "suffering" with regard to long nights spent working on a dissertation in the stacks:!/whitneytrettien/status/142237013612048385!/whitneytrettien/status/142237735334322176!/whitneytrettien/status/142238143599493120!/whitneytrettien/status/142238367453679617

They have also said that they did not so "labor and suffer" just to be stuck with an #alt-ac job (like mine? for which I turned down tenure-track positions and prestigious research funding?), or to have to teach lowly freshman comp, which many people have remarked is an unpleasantly entitled kind of thing to say.

I agree with Whitney these are poor rhetorical moves to make when the overall #occupy movement is addressing more acute labor and suffering among people much less privileged than your average English PhD. Surely there are better ways to build on and participate in the larger movement.

I did call @occupymla out yesterday morning for statements that seemed to devalue and insult the "alternative academic" community. The group never addressed or acknowledged what I had to say, but my exchange with +George Williams, who was already staging a little intervention, set off the current Twitterspasm. You can catch up on a small corner of it here:

For me, it started with Occupy MLA's tagline. "Stick your alt-ac advice squarely in your variorum. TENURE TRACK NOW" (since removed from as the banner under which the Twitter account chose to march) seems to me to be a simplistic and needlessly antagonistic binary. I encouraged Occupy MLA to know their enemies. The #alt-ac community includes people laboring tirelessly to remake scholarly communications systems (publishing, libraries, etc.), to reform grad training so that people have more viable options and so that that the next generation of faculty are better informed & equipped to remake their institutions, and working -- from the inside -- to embed core humanities values and knowledge into academic structures and policies. They do not deserve to be reminded by the very people they are trying to serve, and serve alongside, that they are considered to be tenure-track wash-outs and second-class citizens.

This morning's apparent #omla change of heart with regard to #alt-ac is nice. Raising awareness of problems like student debt, overproduction of PhDs, under-preparation for ther realities of the market, exploitative labor practices, and the corporatization and adjunctification of our universities is the way to go. I think we could use a hopeful vision as well, of the universities and colleges we'd like to operate with and within.

But I still think Whitney's critique is spot-on. Watching the relatively privileged co-opt Occupy Wall Street activist rhetoric in support of what comes across as bourgeois wish fulfillment ("I deserve a higher social status in the academy!") is pretty ick.

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Mostly, I look at the whole trainwreck with sadness. A generation of emerging scholars & #alt-ac knowledge workers must remake the professions, together, and in constructive partnership with our scholarly societies. Taken together, recent statements by AHA and MLA leadership on de-stigmatizing #alt-ac and reforming employment conditions for humanities faculty are hugely heartening:

Know all your enemies. These aren't among them.

I've only been a mid-level university administrator for a few years, but that's been long enough to see how self-defeating it is, from the local to the national level, when humanities scholars respond to economic stress by doing three things: close ranks and assert that everyone on the outside is an enemy or a fool; engage in the kind of infighting that assumes our game is zero-sum; and voice their worries about the future of the profession and the academy in personally aggrieved tones that come across as elitist and uninformed and internally inconsistent (rather than richly polyvocal).

Good luck, Occupy MLA. For what it's worth, here's a smattering of the stuff I've written, created, or co-created over the past few years to raise awareness of aligned issues (many from my perspective as a digital humanist) and to do concrete good (sometimes local, sometimes nationally & internationally) for the humanities, for emerging scholars, and for undervalued academics and the tenuously employed. Hey, that's you.
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