A Message from the Executive Council about the Report of the Task Force on Doctoral Study

The Executive Council received the report of the Task Force on Doctoral Study in Modern Language and Literature at its meeting on 20–21 February 2014 and approved it for dissemination to the membership. The task force members have done impressive work, and we offer our deep appreciation to them: Russell A. Berman (chair), Carlos J. Alonso, Sylvie Debevec Henning, Lanisa Kitchiner, Bethany Nowviskie, Elizabeth Schwartz Crane, Sidonie Ann Smith, and Kathleen Woodward.

The council considered the practical implications of the task force’s main goals, evaluated the ten recommendations, and discussed strategies for implementation. We believe that, taken as a whole, the report marks an important step forward in the conception of doctoral education in literature, language, and rhetoric in the United States. The members of the task force engaged deeply with many constituencies to frame a set of issues that everyone in our discipline must confront.

At the same time, council members recognize that conditions among kinds of institutions, campuses, and departments vary enormously. The report in its entirety cannot be expected to reflect the reality of every institution. Some recommendations will seem utopian, especially when they require revision beyond the departmental level. We nonetheless hope that the report will stimulate and provide intellectual support for new conversations among graduate faculty members, department chairs, and administrators about such topics as degree requirements, time to degree, and funding for doctoral student research in humanities fields.

The council proposes that the executive summary of the report  be circulated and a link to the report be made available to everyone with a stake in graduate education on a given campus—not only faculty members and current and recent graduate students but also staff members, graduate school administrators, deans, and provosts. A wide-ranging discussion among these constituencies is therefore the first step toward imagining how the recommendations in the report might be implemented. In that spirit, we recommend that each department set aside time for such a discussion at the earliest opportunity.

The agenda for such a conversation will vary according to local conditions, but it would ideally adapt the report’s recommendations into practical measures appropriate to the setting. What additional ideas do you have about how the report of the task force might be translated into action? The Executive Council recognizes the range of potential responses to the report and would be greatly interested in hearing from you about the institutional conversations you have; please feel free to comment here or to write the council directly (execdirector@mla.org). We hope you agree that the matters raised in the report are too important to ignore. We promise to keep working toward improving doctoral education, and we count on members on the ground to do the hardest work of all.


New MLA Report on Doctoral Study | News from the MLA

[…] In a newly released report, the MLA’s Task Force on Doctoral Study in Modern Language and Literature confronts challenges to the future of humanistic study and issues recommendations to help doctoral programs meet these challenges. Supported in part by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the task force drew on conversations with students, faculty members, administrators, and employers outside the academy to issue its ten recommendations for strengthening programs, from the admissions stage to the dissertation to career preparation. Learn more about how you can continue the conversation about the report and share your comments with the Executive Council on the executive director’s blog. […]

Sheri Oberman

Silos Hamper Change to Doc Education: Silos Alive in MLA Doctoral Study Report and Scholarship of Doctoral Studies http://bit.ly/1eZQE2U

While the scholars of doctoral education toil and talk, doctoral education providers take their lead from disciplinary associations like the MLA. The MLA report lacks a good grounding in the literature on doctoral education. Ongoing renewal of doctoral programs that involves data collection, ( for example times to completion/attrition/ post-career paths) regular meetings for the purpose of change between learners and program providers, and sharing knowledge of program changes promises to make doctoral study more responsive and aligned.

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