The Ethics of Your Academic Associations

My ethical train of thought continues with a brief reflection on academic associations.

Every academic is probably a member of a handful of academic associations. At the moment I am a member of 7 different associations. Some are generalist and some are very specific in terms of literary area or pedagogy. When I was in grad school my membership was dictated by the cost of membership and the amount of advocacy I felt being associated with this group would provide. Now I am in a privileged position that cost is not always the number one thought when I join a group, but advocacy of things I value and espousing similar ethics is still of the utmost importance.

I joined the MLA when I started my MA which was 15 years ago now if you can imagine. By 2015 I had enough and did not renew my membership (that’s 10 years of membership if you are counting). My decision to not renew my MLA membership was motivated by the fact that I really felt that the MLA as an association was constantly forgetting two groups that I happened to intersect with: scholars who were not based in the United States, and sessional instructors (or adjuncts as they call them in the States).

It was not a decision I took lightly because the MLA is kind a big deal if you are an English literature scholar. However, the discussions I had on Twitter and via email demonstrated time and again that the MLA did not care to be inclusionary in their policies and their framework. In short, the ethics of the association clearly did not intersect with my personal and professional ethics.

However, since 2010 I had started to attend the regional MLAs instead, NeMLA and MMLA, and both of these conferences have always been a very positive experience. In fact, the regional MLAs were clearly invested in international collaboration, and had a very rigorous and active area devoted to contract academic faculty, graduate students, and the study of pedagogy. I gladly renew my NeMLA membership every year and I try to attend as often as I can because I really believe what they have going on at that conference is special. It is a larger conference that doesn’t get lost in loftiness; it models the very ethics that it promotes in their special events and workshops.

It’s difficult to be part of an association if the goals and ethics of the association don’t seem to intersect with your own. In fact one should question if you should be part of an academic association that wouldn’t support who you are as a person or scholar. I have been thinking about this a lot. Associations can often times be very cliquey and that can exclude the very people they should be including. So as we get to “renew your membership” time of the year maybe it’s time to delve a little deeper in the vision and best practices that your associations support. Do you feel represented by the association? If yes, why? If no, why not? These might not be easy questions but they are valuable ones. You have every right to expect the kind of advocacy you deserve from your association. That’s why you pay your membership dues every year.

If you are part of an association just because of the glamourous locales for their conferences, this post is not for you. But if you are part of an association that you feel has let you down, let them know. If you choose not to renew tell them why. Maybe they will actually do something to be more representative of people who believe in things you believe in. Ultimately, academics and educators have a responsibility to model the kind of ethics we would like to see in our educational environments and in our research- our associations are a great place to start.


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