MLA refuses to pass resolutions favored by radicals

Historians in the News

The Modern Language Association frequently helps out its critics with provocative session titles and left-leaning political stands offered by its members. At this year’s annual meeting, in Chicago, some MLA members have worried that the association was poised to take stances that would have sent David Horowitz’s fund raising through the roof with resolutions that appeared to be anti-Israel and pro-Ward Churchill.

But in moves that infuriated the MLA’s Radical Caucus, the association’s Delegate Assembly refused to pass those resolutions and instead adopted much narrower measures. The association acknowledged tensions over the Middle East on campus, but in a resolution that did not single out pro-Israel groups for criticism. And the association criticized the University of Colorado for the way it started its investigation of Ward Churchill, but took no stand on whether the outcome (his firing) was appropriate.

The votes by the MLA’s largest governing council came in an at-times-surreal five-hour meeting. Cary Nelson, author of Manifesto of a Tenured Radical, was in the position of being the leading moderate, offering alternative language to defeat Radical Caucus proposals. Critics of Israel repeatedly talked about “facts on the ground” to refer to the treatment of Israel’s critics on campuses today, and it was unclear whether the term was being used ironically in light of the phrase’s use to describe Israel’s settlement policy on the West Bank and a recent book at the center of a Barnard College tenure controversy.

While material distributed by those seeking to condemn Churchill’s firing portrayed him favorably, and as a victim of the right wing, some of those who criticized the pro-Churchill effort at the meeting are long-time experts in Native American studies and decidedly not conservative. Many attendees were confused by the parliamentary procedure, and at least one proposed amendment that appeared to have significant backing (in theory) fell apart when questions were raised about its syntax.

After one vote that his side lost, Grover Furr, a Radical Caucus leader who teaches at New Jersey’s Montclair State University, called the meeting “a perversion of parliamentary procedures.”...

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Randll Reese Besch - 1/2/2008

It would be indicated,I think, you should contact them about utilizing your expertise in the matter that they obviously need such guidence.

Caroline Hill - 1/2/2008

If the absence of proper procedures was truly an issue (it's not clear from the rest of the article), that's a shame. A well-run meeting is a thing of beauty. I have been chairing meetings since I was an undergraduate. I always try to make sure that everyone involved always knows exactly what the parliamentary situation is and to treat all sides the same. Then even the losing side goes away thinking they had a fair chance to win. Not enough academics understand this principle and not enough of us have bothered to learn even the basics of Robert's Rules.