I started this conversation on Facebook, but I'm moving it here because (1) Eileen hijacked it and made it about (what else?) martinis; and (2) it's important, and merits wide public attention from we who care about the future of the study of the past.
The Shakespeare Association of America (SAA) is the Big Single Author Association for early modernists, a larger version of the medievalists' New Chaucer Society. I know a bit about the organization because GW MEMSI helped sponsor their annual meeting DC in 2008, and of course many of my colleagues, friends and students attend their convocations. I was incredulous when I was told that the SAA is putting into place a policy through which graduate students who hope to participate in their seminars need to have their thesis supervisor confirm via official email their status as engaged in late stage doctoral work. (The SAA annual meeting is structured into workshops and seminars into which participants apply. Work is precirculated, and the seminars may be audited by those who have not been selected for participation). So I looked at the most recent bulletin, and there it is, reprinted three times in the course of 12 pages:
Seminars and workshops are appropriate for college and university faculty, independent postdoctoral scholars, and graduate students in the later stages of their doctoral work. The SAA now seeks to monitor this policy of long standing. Graduate students are registered in SAA seminars only when their thesis supervisors have verified their status by means of a confirming e-mail to the SAA office (saa@georgetown. edu). The message should be sent from the advisor’s university e-mail address, should not be evaluative, and should give the title of the student’s dissertation project. For students in programs with a terminal degree other than the Ph.D., advisors should explain the program as well as the student’s status.OK, what am I missing here? What does this policy hope to achieve, other than the infantilzation of those whom the SAA ought to strive to cultivate? Doktorvater needs to send a note to the SAA saying that Little Johnny ABD is approved for admission to a seminar, and isn't trying to misrepresent himself as someone smart enough, skilled enough, engaged enough to be a valuable contributor -- because you have to be late stage before that can possibly happen, right? I was under the impression that graduate students are adults, and that when they go on unchaperoned trips they don't need permission slips -- I mean, confirmation of status emails from thesis advisors.
I am hoping that someone more familiar with why the SAA should adopt such a policy will post here. In the meantime, I keep thinking that the SAA is conducting the same self-sabotage that the MAA is doing in hesitating over moving the annual meeting from Arizona: angering and alienating the very people who are the organization's future.
The enduring ardor for hierarchy endemic to our profession puzzles me. Graduate students and faculty are colleagues engaged in a mutual enterprise. The commitment to study for an advanced humanities degree is a brave and perilous one, because the road is difficult and the destination extremely uncertain. Those who undertake such a commitment should be honored and cultivated for that choice, not made to feel like kids who need a strong dose of paternalism to keep them from overstepping.