ROLAND GREENE, professor of English and of comparative literature, has been elected second vice president of the Modern Language Association (MLA), a position that will lead him to the presidency in two years.
Greene is the author of Five Words: Critical Semantics in the Age of Shakespeare and Cervantes, which will appear from the University of Chicago Press in March. He also is the editor-in-chief of the fourth edition of the Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics (2012). Greene is the Mark Pigott O.B.E. Professor in the School of Humanities and Sciences.
Stanford has produced several MLA presidents in the past 20 years: HERBERT LINDENBERGER, the Avalon Foundation Professor of Humanities, Emeritus; MARY LOUISE PRATT, the Olive H. Palmer Professor in the Humanities, Emerita; and MARJORIE PERLOFF, the Sadie Dernham Patek Professor of Humanities, Emerita. Most recently, RUSSELL BERMAN, the Walter A. Haas Professor in the Humanities, served as president in 2011.
While the MLA presidency has long been a career-culminating honor for renowned scholars, it has more recently become a more policy-oriented role, emphasizing continuity from one president to the next.
Greene stressed the MLA’s role in advocacy, developing initiatives to represent the literary and language disciplines to legislators, foundations, journalists and the public.
“These are the perennial subjects of the MLA. It will always have a stake in issues of public policy.”
However, he added, “What one does as president is conditioned by one’s predecessors. It’s always a balance between pursuing something relatively intellectual or pedagogical, and addressing questions of the profession itself – for example, the explosion of adjunct faculty in academia.”
The MLA officers address inequities in the profession, especially to improve the lot of adjunct faculty while discouraging the national trend toward overreliance on adjunct labor. They also develop collective positions on issues that arise – such as, most recently, massive open online courses, or MOOCs. Greene noted the “internationality” of the MLA, with a growing emphasis on Asia and Eastern Europe.
With nearly 30,000 members in more than 100 countries, the MLA is the chief professional organization for scholars of languages and literatures. Among its many regular activities, the MLA holds an annual convention that serves as one of the biggest job markets for specialists in these fields. It also publishes the MLA International Bibliography, the only comprehensive bibliography in language and literature.
In addition, the association is a national leader in education and a major player in influencing how colleges, universities and other institutions conduct themselves toward employees in the literary and language fields.
Greene will be president in calendar year 2015, until the end of the convention in January 2016, after serving a year as second vice president and the following year as first vice president.
Greene was on the Executive Council, the MLA’s governing board, from 1999 to 2002. After a decade away from involvement in MLA policy, Greene intends to reacquaint himself with the current agenda before deciding what the thrust of his leadership will be. He will formally announce the direction of his presidency at the MLA convention in January 2015.
“In the meantime, I’ll be talking to colleagues around the country and at Stanford about the issues we’re facing,” he said.
—CYNTHIA HAVEN, director of communications for the English Department and the Creative Writing Program