I’m at MLA. I’m having fun, etc. But there’s a great article in The Chronicle today about the most talked-about paper at the conference, written by my old graduate school colleague Brian Croxall:

About 7,400 scholars of literature and language are attending the Modern Language Association convention here this week. Brian Croxall is not one of them.

Mr. Croxall* is a visiting assistant professor in the English department at Clemson University. That makes him part of the uncomfortable majority of faculty members who do not have tenure-track jobs. This would have been his fourth MLA meeting in a row. He was scheduled to appear on a panel here on “Today’s Students, Today’s Teachers: Economics.” He also hoped he would be interviewing for jobs.

As we all know, though, it’s another gloomy year in the humanities job market, with the MLA’s jobs listings down 37 percent from last year. When none of the 41 positions Mr. Croxall applied for produced an interview, he decided he could not afford to attend the MLA this year. Instead he posted his paper on his Web site as it was being read by proxy here in Philadelphia.

Although he wasn’t here to deliver it in person, Mr. Croxall’s paper may wind up being the conference’s most-talked-about presentation. This MLA has produced a lively Twitter stream (hashtag #mla09), which quickly picked up Mr. Croxall’s hardscrabble account of life as a contingent faculty member and began retweeting it. One poster described it as “required reading for higher-ed folks.” It is a frank and frankly bleak description of just how close to the edge many faculty members live — and what that means not just for their careers and their scholarship but for their students.

If you follow the link to his page you can read the entire paper. It’s essential reading, apparently. And with any luck, maybe all this notoriety can be turned to account in the spring!

(*It’s Dr. Croxall, thanks. He didn’t spend umpteen years in graduate school to be called Mr. Croxall.)

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