A Public Service Announcement! ;)

A Public Service Announcement! ;)

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

MLA is Messing with My Money and My Emotions

Is Laurie N. Taylor's chapter in MLA's recent publication Teaching the Graphic Novel going to help solidify her as a major presence in comics studies? Has Charles Hatfield started quoting from actual education and literacy professors' works to make his points about comics and education/literacy? Are many humanities professors in the edited collection doing the same, or simply using the "I said it, so that makes it so" mantra regarding pedagogy that so many in the humanities seem to accept as valid? How does my own piddly little chapter on teaching Watchmen stack up with the other chapters in this edited collection?

I'd love to tell you, but I can't.

Why? Because MLA decided not to complete its obligations to its contributors to this text right away, as is customary and considered professionally polite. Instead, MLA sent some contributors their copies of this text, as per contract obligations, but not others. There was such a back-order for the book, the organization decided to go with the money over their integrity, sending all available copies to those who paid for it BEFORE honoring their contracts to contributors.

This, in the academic world, is poor form. Contributors should get their copies BEFORE anyone else, or at least have their copies sent at the same time as orders begin being filled.
How did they choose who would get the copies and who would have to wait? Was it based alphabetically? By rank? By trying to decide who would balk at the notion least or who wouldn't have the balls to complain (see my previous post) at such an act? I will probably never know those answers, but I have to tell you, it has been a banner 18 months or so regarding me feeling disappointed in many of my professional organizations:

NCTE cancelled a contract for what would have been my second book. A keynote speaker at a CEE conference called for the removal of all visual aids in the English classroom. I have received peer evaluations from an IRA journal where the reviewers suggested I didn't tell them enough about my identity in the article, even though the journal's guidelines specifically call for removing all instances of one's identity. The same journals have been publishing articles on graphic novels, but my work hasn't been cited in any of them. I've received a vague, standard-issue rejection letter from an NCTE journal that claims to be peer reviewed but offered no specific evidence of being such in the letter I received.

And now this.

What's worse, MLA representatives have NO IDEA of when I will get my copies. Here I am, trying to put together my annual performance review, and I don't even have physical evidence of my chapter's inclusion. I do have a PDF copy of the page proofs and can show the online table of contents for the book, thank goodness. But, what if I was in a department that required physical evidence of the text? My performance review is due next week. I doubt I'll have my copy by then.

Some of you may not realize this, but sometimes professors get raises or merit pay increases based on the prestige and number of their publications per year. So, if I was in a department that needed physical evidence of my chapter's inclusion in the text, there is a strong possibility that I would not be able to get credit for this publication for this past year, the year of its appearance. That could theoretically mean I would not gain as high a merit score and therefor possibly not be rewarded with as high a pay increase as I could have been.

So, MLA could be messing with my money. And when you mess with my money, you mess with my emotions. (Biggie Smalls, right?)

One would think the Modern Language Association, comprised mostly of academics, would take such situations into account, especially since they were the ones who decided on the December 31, 2009 publication date.

I am incensed about their decision not to honor all contributor contracts at the same time. I'm angered that it was even considered as a viable option, that someone in the MLA thought that MLA was big enough that they didn't have to follow professional protocol or that they were powerful enough that members wouldn't dare complain.

(Again, to explain for some readers: Academics pretty much HAVE to be members of professional organizations. Not being involved suggests a lack of responsibility and presence within intellectual communities. Depending on one's field, one needs to be associated with certain organizations. On top of this, there is often the unstated notion that one needs to "be quiet until one is tenured" when it comes to wrongdoings within organizations. After all, the organizations you're a part of will probably host the members who will do your "outside evaluations" as a scholar that will determine if you're tenured.)

Thank goodness for CEE and ALAN, organizations with which I've had no major frustrations since becoming a member.

Before ending this rant, I do want to make it clear that the contributors and editor of Teaching the Graphic Novel were not responsible for this poorly thought-out decision. Further, I am in full control of my faculties and know there's the possibility of professional fall-out from posting something like this. Frankly, if the profession's organizations can't do better, I'm not sure if I need to be involved in them at all. I have my goals: have an impact on my field (check. Education scholars almost have to acknowledge graphic novels now, partly due to my efforts), and help prepare the best future English teachers I possibly can (in progress). But, as a nontenured professor, it doesn't feel like I have much voice in how certain decisions are made -- except through my blog -- for now.

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