Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Medieval Academy: Yes on Tempe

Full text of the email sent out to MAA members (I'll provide a link to the message on the MAA page when it gets posted):
On behalf of the Council, the Executive Committee wishes to thank the many members of the Academy and the medieval community for their active engagement with the question of holding the Academy's Annual Meeting next April in Tempe. As you know, the Council asked the Executive Committee to make a final decision concerning this question on 3 August 2010. We are writing to inform you of our decision, and are also posting this message on the Academy's website.

The results of the advisory poll of the membership held by the Council was divided. The poll was sent to 3881 members, of whom 1025 responded. Of the respondents, 431 voted against holding the meeting in Tempe (42%), 477 (46.5%) voted to hold it as planned, and 110 (10.7%) expressed no opinion. Seven responses [<1%] were invalid. Only 32.7% of the respondents said they were prepared to contribute towards offsetting the cost of canceling the meeting, whereas 65 % declared their unwillingness to do so. Of the 477 voting against canceling, 186 included comments; of the 431 voting to cancel, 111 wrote comments; of the 110 expressing no preference, 18 added a message.

In reaching its decision the Executive Committee discussed at great length a wide range of issues, including its fiduciary responsibility for the Academy's endowment, the appropriateness of making collective political statements, the precedents that would be set if the Academy canceled the meeting, the scholarly effects of canceling the annual meeting, the work done by the Arizona programming committee, the difficulty of finding any alternative meeting place, the timing of cancellation, and the possibility of legal challenge to Arizona's legislation (which in fact occurred on 28 July).

After weighing all these issues, the Executive Committee has voted to hold the meeting, as planned, in Tempe. The Committee is working with Robert Bjork and the Progam Committee to ensure that the program of the meeting reflects and relates to similar issues at stake in medieval society, including such topics as race, ethnicity, immigration, tolerance, treatment of minority groups, protest against governmental policies judged unjust, and standards of judicial and legislative morality. We are delighted that the Episcopal bishop of Arizona, Kirk Smith, who has been deeply involved in the immigration legislation debate (and whose doctoral dissertation Brian Tierney directed), has agreed to speak to us.

Elizabeth A.R. Brown, President
Alice-Mary Talbot, First Vice-President
Maryanne Kowaleski, Second Vice-President
Constance Berman
Peggy McCracken
Brian Patrick McGuire
Danuta Shanzer


Another Damned Medievalist said...

The more times I read this, the more I see it as a bunch of people who are far too comfortable in their positions and totally unaware of their privilege, and who are far too out of touch with what younger (and I am almost 50, people!) scholars see as their role.

It's astonishing to think that they can write off a law based in racism and fear as "political" rather than moral and ethical. And annoying to be dismissed.

So what's the answer? do we quit MAA, or do we work to replace a bunch of out of touch and privilege-blind folks with people who represent the concerns for public engagement that seem to be more and more the norm?

Chris said...

So, the MAA did everything asked for in the petition; they seriously considered cancelling it, they are including "immigration and tolerance" programming, they're involving local activists, and the law has been legally challenged and will probably be gone before the meeting happens. It sounds like you (we) won this battle (if not the war, so to speak).

Eileen Joy said...

While I do, of course, respect all of the deliberations the MAA put themselves through in order to arrive at this decision, and while I'm sure the recent legal challenge to the law had no small impact on their final decision [indeed, I'm sure some of the MAA Council and Exec. Committee members were holding their breath on this one and were rewarded for their "wait and see" approach, which I nevertheless cannot fully empathize with, as I always believed this was more of a moral issue, and not a pragmatic legal or other type of technical-political issue--the entire "question," as it were, for me anyway, demanded a kind of immediate statement of withdrawal, but I also understand the MAA is a very large organization and has many many considerations to take into careful account, etc.], BUT: I find this letter justifying the final decision as a kind of epitome of the worst sort of muddled pragmatism, and I'm especially distressed at the clunky *melange* of considerations [almost like bad mixed metaphors], including, in my own shorthand:

1. financial considerations [we will lose money]

2. pragmatic, and perhaps political, reluctance to make a "collective" statement [a sad day, in my opinion, for the noble hopes of collectivist political agency]

3. the supposed [implied] *bad* precedent of canceling/moving a meeting [is the hesitation here that canceling and/or moving a meeting means in the future that everyone will cry "foul" at every future venue for possibly petty reasons--but doesn't the MAA understand what the MLA has gone through on this and other accounts, and admirably, for all of the "trouble" and headaches it has caused the MLA and is the MAA not willing to learn from/follow the lead of the MLA in this matter?]

4. "scholarly effects"--one assumes negative ones [speaking of which, the "wide range of issues" the MAA letter cites are all laid out as a list with the negative "effects," appropriateness, or lack thereof, etc. only hinted at and not explicitly stated so that we have to guess at the agenda/reasoning behind each "issue"]: so, no MAA meeting in Tempe, or at all for one year, and the field of medieval studies takes a dip in the scholarly rankings, or is unable to properly disseminate scholarly findings, or enters into a mini-Dark Age?

5. labor and time already spent, implying that "labor/time IN" must always lead to "product OUT," every time? Some of the greatest artistic and other achievements of the Middle Ages do not reflect such a formula, and when they did, the consequences weren't always so great [hint: the Crusades; yes, I know this is an awful joke: sue me]

6. the difficulty of finding another venue = we don't want to work that hard? [I would personally offer here Saint Louis, MO, jointly hosted by Saint Louis University, Washington University in Saint Louis, and Southern Illinois Univ. Edwardsville, but I don't think anyone would ask me; plus, it was in Chicago last year and I know the MAA needs to roam geographically, but I wonder, too: DID any other universities volunteer?]

7. timing = we wish we had known before what we know now? [hindsight is 20/20; I wish I had known before what I know now, too, and I could have escaped two really bad relationships that took up about 10 years of my life]

8. let's put aside making what will be a painful and logistically nightmarish decision and see if the Arizona legislature does the right thing before the meeting is scheduled, because, after all, legislatures are always doing the right thing? [Oftentimes: NO, but here, maybe they will; either way, that is always long and protracted and weighing *guessed* outcomes of legal battles versus what might be the collective will of what is *deliberated* to be the *right* thing to do seems like bad gambling]


Matthew Gabriele said...

I don't have much to say but I will say this about registering displeasure with the decision: if you do disagree, by all means don't go to Tempe and be sure to let people know (at the MAA) the reasons for that decision. But, please, please don't cancel your membership in the MAA.

If you do want to change the organization, you do that by exerting pressure on it not by leaving it. If you leave, then the organization need not pay any attention to you. Moreover, it deprives those sympathetic to your cause (in this case, 42% of respondents!) of allies.

Eileen Joy said...

In short, I think I would respect the MAA's decision better if it weren't justified by such a laundry list of rotting vegetables that I can smell but can't see [mixed metaphors intentional]. This may simply be the understandable outcome of a decision that was based on the Council trying to really take *everything* into account. It's called pragmatism. And in this case, it just sucks.

I won't and can't quit MAA over this, because I quit MAA quite a few years ago when I realized that, all of the good intentions of some of its Directors and Councillors aside, it was never going to come into the 20th or 21st century. Yes, I know it's good to have tradition, but I'm one of those who find it primarily stifling. Why then am I a medievalist? Because I actually consider the Middle Ages a vast and wild realm of counter-culturalisms. It took an entire industry of 19th-century and early 20th-century "scholars" to make it otherwise [with some notable exceptions, such as the delightful Frederick Furnivall and crew].

Eileen Joy said...

@Chris: very good points, and I don't mean to overlook them in my own comments; at the same time, I remain distressed that their decision reflects perhaps TOO much attention to all of the competing interests and "issues," as they put them. It's a kind of clusterfuck of all sorts of competing *pragmatic* decisions and considerations [of everyone's opinions] that does not reflect in any way the moral and ethical considerations at stake.

@Matthew: I think the "change things from within" argument is *always* a compelling one and should not be overlooked; for me personally, the MAA ceased to be relevant a long time ago. But that's just me. That's why I started BABEL, partly, because deep down I continue to believe in organizations, institutions, and the like, but I'm after a more radical re-conceptualization of what our field can be and do, and I can't--again *personally*--be everywhere at once. I wish no harm or ill will to the MAA as an organization, but they do disappoint me deeply--*as* a *medievalist*.

meg said...

I'm not sure I agree, Matt. Rather, I'm sure I don't but I'm too Southern to say it so plainly in the first sentence.

The MAA has always been deeply fuddy-duddical, which in many ways is a plus. But in this case, I very much wonder how much consideration was given to the appeal and the 42% of respondents who said MOOOOOOVE IT!

The announced renewal deadline is one thing that aroused my concern. It very much gave the impression that the organization wanted us all to pay our fees before any decision was announced.

I understand folks deciding to stay and try to effect change from within, and I respect that decision. I certainly hope they're successful! But I am not optimistic about that possibility. I feel that I can best make my voice heard and felt by resigning.

Ms. Grinberg said...

I am new to the MAA, just arrived, and already feel that I don't belong. Not that sometimes I am blind to my own set of privileges, but SB1070 is pretty much representing one of my worse nightmares in relation to this country.

I would like to believe in historical memory of persecution, that we still remember how it feels to be "them" for a second. Yesterday they came for "them," but as I was not one of "them" I did not do anything. Today they came for "us," and nobody does anything!

S Pollack said...

Here's what the AZ Legislature would have said if the MAA had canceled: "Medieval Academy? What's that, some kind of Harry Potter type deal?"
Here's what the conference hotel would have said: "Thanks for the 30 grand! Feel free to cancel your next meeting with us."
The damage done by this symbolic gesture would have been to ACMRS, and no one else.

Got Medieval said...

Sure, individually the MAA has no pull. No major news stories would have been written in response to the boycott. But news organizations love a list. We could've been on the list of organizations taking a principled stand. Indeed, "organizations ranging from the all the way to the Medieval Academy of America have put their money where their mouths are" is exactly the sort of phrase they'd use over and over again.

Sad that the MAA won't be part of that, I say. I'm not a MAA member right now on account of always forgetting to pay my dues, and, well, seems like I can put off paying those dues for a bit longer after all.

Eileen Joy said...

@S Pollack: why is the perceived [and/or real] lack of relevancy of medieval studies and their organizations always cited as the reason to *not* take any sort of stand? Ergo: since no one is paying attention to me/us, nothing I/we do really matters, anyway. To which: Vergil: virtue is its own reward.

medievalkarl said...

S Pollack: in that context, what does the MAA do, or medievalists, or academics in the humanities, that has any effect at all beyond ourselves? When should boycotts be carried out? Only when the boycotting agent has achieved a sufficient critical mass?

Frankly, the MAA has done damage by its own 'symbolic gesture' [an odd locution, I think, implying the existence of non-symbolic gestures], namely, its decision to continue to hold the meeting in Tempe. Holding to the status quo is also a decision, and, like all decisions, it is also symbolic.

To open this, perhaps temporarily, to a meta-conversation: I'm remembering a conversation I had in Siena with a medievalist who can identify him/herself if himr so chooses regarding Italy's recent sartorial laws: we all should have known about these laws, yet we decided to go to Siena anyway, and, so far as I know, there was no protest against NCS holding its meeting in Italy.

Why? Speaking as a New Yorker, which is to say, as an Northeast Coast elitist, maybe it's because Italy's more fun/historical/delicious/etc to visit than Arizona. Surely our pleasure factors into this, whether this is the pleasure of traveling to interesting places, that of feeling oneself morally right, the pleasure of feeing oneself to be good scholar by sticking to the text itself, etc.

S.Pollack said...

@Eileen Joy and @Karl Steel: MAA can take a stand, as can any individual, without shafting ACMRS, who are not answerable for the sins of Jan Brewer. I speak from a position of loyalty to that organization and its associated faculty that overrides the disgust I feel for the politics of my former home state.
Personally, if my paper is accepted, I plan to deliver it, make a donation and volunteer for one day at an organization that is working to repeal SB1070, and/or who work on immigrant rights (currently shopping for the right org. who can accept such help from an out of towner). And I will visit aged and infirm relations who are unable to travel (the inevitable personal/political entanglement).
If this were a discussion of whether to plan 2012 or some future meeting in AZ, then of course I would be against doing so. Holding the meeting as plan does not feel right, but canceling now, and damaging the organization that is working to put it on would, to my mind, be a manifest wrong.

Eileen Joy said...

@S.Pollack: thanks for your further comments; I think engaged conversations like these are important for all of us in sorting through all of the reasons/considerations/issues/whathaveyou we might have while trying to deliberate a response to the MAA's decision to stay, or not, in Tempe, AZ next year for their annual meeting, and what we plan to do, or not, in relation to that. I will say, also, though, that I think everyone should pause to also consider their particular position vis-a-vis their identity politics [or lack thereof]. I cannot tell you how many emails I have received from medievalists who are Americans of Hispanic and Latino descent who are deeply distressed by the MAA's decision. I'm personally happy to take my own lead from them. What I mean by this more personally goes something like this:

1. as I've said repeatedly, I resigned from the MAA a while back, so in some respects, I don't have no dog in this fight

2. I think the best response to this sort of situation is not necessarily boycotts or letter-writing campaigns, but rather, to envision what sort of field I/we want medieval studies to be and then to put that into action by whatever means necessary [as opposed to complaining about what everyone else is doing that is supposedly wrong--at heart, I'm a pluralist]


3. I have a close friend who is Latino-American [who is an academic, but not a medievalist], and so is her husband [a corporate executive], whose 14-year-old daughter asked me just this past Saturday what the MAA had decided [because I had told her about a month ago about the MAA situation] and I said I didn't know yet and she was clearly all fired up about it and I thought, "wow, this 14-year-old is really hopped up about this like it actually *matters* what a bunch of medievalists are going to do," and for her, it really *is* personal, and scary, and threatening.

So, whatever opinions I have, these are really on her behalf. I'm qite serious about this.

Eileen Joy said...

Another way of saying what I just did, and especially to S.Pollack, is that I'm not particularly worried right now about *hurting* the MAA; I'm more worried about hurting un-protected individuals who are *already* hurt by the legislation in Arizona. History teaches us that change really does come in many forms: from within, from without, etc. So everyone choose your own particular form of agitation, but agitate nevertheless. I don't want to judge the character of others, but I guess I just wish more of us could see that the MAA lost an opportunity to stand up for those who cannot always necessarily stand up for themselves.

S Pollack said...

@Eileen Joy: Thanks for your response. I can't fault or even disagree with any individual who resigns from MAA or who boycotts the meeting. That's an ethically motivated choice. Speaking only as an observer, it *looks like* MAA Execs took an organizational decision that causes the least *material* harm. Personal decisions are personal, of course. My major concern, as I've said, is for ACMRS rather than MAA—but this rests on the assumption that ACMRS wants the meeting to go on. I haven't actually spoken to Bob Bjork et al. on this! If ACMRS wanted to pull it, I would support that as well. But we definitely agree, and you said it well: choose your mode of agitation, but do agitate.

walter simons said...

I cancelled my membership of the Academy. Here's a copy of my letter:

Elizabeth E.R. Brown, President
Medieval Academy of America

Dear Peggy,

Please accept my immediate resignation as a member of the Medieval Academy of America. I cannot possibly continue to support an organization which ignores the tremendous damage done to our nation and to scholarship by recent legislation of the State of Arizona. Although I understand that, in its decision to schedule the 2011 meeting at Tempe as planned, the Academy's leadership is simply following the wishes of a plurality of polled members, I am astounded by the letter I just received announcing that decision. While it enumerates all the reasons why members thought we could not move the conference, not one word was devoted to the arguments for a move.

Moreover, I cannot agree with the decision "to ensure that the program of the meeting reflects and relates to similar issues at stake in medieval society, including such topics as race, ethnicity, immigration, tolerance,  treatment of minority groups,  protest against governmental policies judged unjust, and standards of judicial and legislative morality." That is exactly the wrong way to respond. My objection to meeting at Tempe was in large part motivated by the State's legislation to censor the content or even prohibit the teaching of "ethnic studies" in public schools. As a scholarly and educational organization, the Academy has a duty to make a strong statement against such politicization of education (and the sheer stupidity of the legislation itself, of course). By turning around and politicizing the content of our own scholarly meeting, we fail miserably in our duty.

Yours sincerely,

Walter Simons
Professor of History
Dartmouth College

Unknown said...

@All in this tremendously thoughtful discussion that gives me a rare moment of hope for the future of American academia: thank you.

I am a member of the MAA. I tried to exert pressure from within by writing many messages to a number of people and signing a petition. Something like 12% of the membership of the MAA checked in to disagree with my view, and that view has prevailed. Fair enough. I will continue to ponder my position but the default is that I will have to part ways with a distinguished organization to which I have belonged for two decades. Ugh.

The stuff about local activists, programs on related issues a thousand years ago when there was no -- HELLO -- U.S. Constitution, and a local liberal primate? Ugh a little more.

@Colleagues sympathetic to the MAA decision: I am truly sorry. I do not and cannot agree with you.

Middle-Aged Privileged WASP with Tenure

Anonymous said...

Eileen, and ADMedievalist--I agree with your positions that the MAA should not have gone, and that "muddled pragmatism" is a good phrase to describe this: but describing the MAA as a bunch of cozy "out of touch and privilege-blind folks" who are devotees of nineteenth-century antiquarianism (I paraphrase, I admit) is, at least by my lights, not fair or even correct. I've not seen a breakdown of the membership, but from those I know, a lot of those older professors are pretty dynamic agitators, and I know at lot of pretty dynamic younger MAA members too--y'all or folks like you included. Rick Emmerson has opened up the focus of Speculum's articles in recent years. Bruce Holsinger, a councillor, wrote a letter posted on ITM asking for a reconsideration of the venue. And look at Kelly DeVries' post on Facebook below the medievalist.net post about the announcement. We weren't dismissed, at all: the measure didn't pass, but 1/3 of the membership voted--that's a lot--and 42% is really pretty good. This didn't have to pass to have made the very good point that the MAA is changing and will further, and that much of the membership sees medieval studies as very closely engaged with our lives as we live in our world today.

I agree with Matt Gabriele here: "if you do disagree, by all means don't go to Tempe and be sure to let people know (at the MAA) the reasons for that decision. But, please, please don't cancel your membership in the MAA." I'd argue that to do so is to opt out of the community of your peers who want and need you there.

Another Damned Medievalist said...

@ Derrick I'm a member of MAA as well. My comments were directed to the tone of the letter from the Executive Committee, which to me *does* smack of unrecognized privilege. And I would argue that many member of the MAA *do* suffer from that, based on purely personal knowledge. There are an awful lot of academics of my generation and older who have never had to work a non-academic job, who did not have to worry about being accepted to a university, and who really never had to compete for work. When they went to university and did their postgraduate work, there were relatively few women and virtually no people of color in the mix. And honestly, look around you at Kalamazoo or Leeds -- how many non-white faces do you see?

Many of us are privileged to live in a world where we will never be stopped and asked for papers, or mistreated by the police, or have to prove that we are yes!medievalists! even though we aren't stodgy and white. But that isn't true for a lot of people in this country, and it is becoming less true in our profession.

It would have been nice to have seen a response that at least appeared to have considered carefully the concerns people have raised for months, including the very real one that Latino members might have had a hard time compared to the white members.

Jeffrey Cohen said...

I am in Cadiz at the moment and without a good internet connection, so I can follow what is unfolding with the MAA only lightly. Here is a note I sent to Scott Jaschik at Inside Higher Ed, who'd asked for my reaction.

Here are my raw thoughts about the MAA. While I am pleased that the MAA deliberated over the possibility of canceling the meeting, I am personally disappointed at both the decision to hold the conference in Arizona and the email that was distributed to announce that decision. Although the email mentioned fiduciary responsibility, membership opinions, and so forth, at no point did it state why a large percentage of the MAA membership is distressed at holding the meeting in Arizona: that the law passed by the legislature is racist and wrong. The MAA email was careful, it was factual, and it lacked moral courage.

Not everyone will agree with me that a professional organization should take a political stand, but for me this is a straightforward question of ethics. I won't cancel my membership in the MAA, because I'd like to see the organization change. But I am embarrassed that the leadership of this association that is supposed to represent me apparently does not feel the outrage that the Arizona situation demands.

Anonymous said...

@ADM: well, that's a good point. I was really disappointed that the letter didn't actually say why they did it--all it did was to list a bunch of issues that came up at the meeting, and then say "we're holding the meeting in Tempe." It seems to me that the letter backed out, as much as it could, of actually putting words to a stand on the issue, even though the action of holding the conference there is a stand. Jeffrey is right: "The MAA email was careful, it was factual, and it lacked moral courage."

Eileen Joy said...

@Derrick: just a couple of clarifications--

first, I second what Jeffrey and ADM say here, in these most recent comments.

second, I did not mean to associate particular members of the MAA with 19th-century antiquarianism--far from it, in fact; my dissertation [which followed the lead of David Matthews' "The Making of Middle English" and Allan Frantzen's "Desire For Origins"] was an intellectual history of the discipline of "Beowulf" studies which actually performed a kind of elegy/lament for the *loss* of the semi-professional "antiquarian" scholarship [embodied in the labors of the EETS, John Mitchell Kemble, Humfrey Wanley, and the like] that became subsumed into the more professionalized discipline of English studies that emerged in the early 20th century at institutions such as Oxbridge and Harvard, etc. The point I was trying to make was that both the Middle Ages themselves [however you define/temporalize/locate those "Ages" and that "Middle"] and the earliest form[s] of the *field* of medieval studies were distinctly counter-cultural in many respects, even rebellious [Frederick Furnival, who founded the EETS in the 1860s, used to rankle his colleagues at the Working Men's College in London by constantly bellowing at dinner about the need for the College to admit women, for example], and many of the field's earliest laborers were *not* members of the establishment of higher education--some, like James Murray, were even temporarily barred from entering the common rooms and libraries at Oxford [and this while he working on the OED!]. So, to make a long story hopefully shorter, I was trying to make the point [as I did in my dissertation] that the techno- and hyper-professionalization of medieval studies within the academies of higher learning has come at some cost to the more radicalizing elements of what some refer to as amateur antiquarianism. I see the MAA in its current structure [and its journal, "Speculum"] as partly an outcome of this history.

third, as I [hoped] I indicated here, and several times on an exchange we have been having on Facebook, I deeply admire and respect the careers and *persons* of MANY current and past members of the MAA; it was precisely because of Rick Emmerson that I hung on to my membership of the MAA as long as I did [I was a member from 1993 until about 2006], but eventually, I just couldn't see any substantial changes, either in the journal or at the annual meeting, so I let my membership lapse and I turned my attention to founding my own organization, meetings, journal, etc. because I wish no harm to the MAA [seriously!] and think that if one wants the profession and/or its organizations to change, you either work from within OR you make that change happen yourself, and hopefully with the help of your friends and colleagues.

fourth, as Jeffrey and ADM put it much more eloquently and succinctly than I ever could, I remain distressed at the *tone* and language of the MAA's letter of explanation, as well as deeply disappointed by what the letter *omits* to say. Although it's very difficult in the current intellectual climate [post-Derrida, post-Foucault, etc.] to speak of morality and ethics in naive, unguarded ways, I continue to believe the situation in Arizona called for more, morally and ethically, than this letter was obviously willing to concede.

Anonymous said...

Back in the bad old days, the meeting at Kalamazoo was founded as a secession from the MAA, back when it always met in Cambridge, back when there were only privileged WASP males on its committees and boards and back when it was impossible for most of us to get onto a panel or review a book. Over the last fifteen years or more that bastion of privilege has been cracked open by courageous officers and members, but there continues to be a backlash. It's not clear that bylaws really allowed councilors to change the meeting, but bylaws are in the process of being updated -- threats of suit against officers and councilors when there is no insurance to provide them with lawyers if they are charged with fiduciary irresponsibility are difficult to counter -- concerns about having publications by our students blackballed or just sat on for years are real -- changeover and search for a new executive director and in the distribution of responsibilities between various parts of the organization are real --

That there was a discussion, that there was an attempt to poll the membership, that there were members willing to contribute big bucks to not going to Tempe, that there are attempts to put together a program that addresses some issues (for they do have a long history) is better than to have totally ignored the issue. Things are looking up -- and if the law is overturned some of us who said we wouldn't go, may go.

That those involved in the decision are seen as privileged is inevitable, but there is not one of them who works any less hard at their privileged positions than any of the rest of the organization -- this is part of a radical change coming up in academe in which the MAA will inevitably be changed.

However, it seems rather churlish to condemn the prose of a committee working by email.

Aunt Pansy

prehensel said...

I think part of the frustration I'm seeing here is a frustration that the MAA didn't see things the way a lot of us see them. And--and I think Eileen hit on this early on--it's because that's a more traditional organization. I personally wasn't surprised by their answer, but I was shocked that they were so receptive to complaints and took cancellation to be a (partially) viable option--unlikely, yes, but not outside the pale.
What we wanted from the MAA was for it to be something that it's not, and thinking back over it, I really do value the stodginess and tradition that I complain about with this group. If there's no one harum-phing behind me, I feel uncomfortable.
So in light of that, I think it might be a wonderful idea to start a tripartite medieval association--a sort of United Federation of Associations. The MAA would form the center of gravity and would likely have the most members; there would, however, also be a leading and a trailing edge association. The trailing edge would be the much more traditional medieval studies that seem to have fallen out of favor a bit (translation, transcription (I mean, the only complete edition of Wulfstan's Institutes of Polity is Jost's...a 50-year-old German text), facsimile, philology, (for its own sake), morphology, lexicography, etc.). The leading edge would be more progressive (engaged with theory, the body, politics, gender, sexuality, culture, etc.) Speculum seems set up for this type of thing--2 centrists articles, one traditionalist, and one progressive.

I know it's a daydream, but I like to daydream...

Tom Elrod said...

I'll just point out one section of the letter that rankled me a bit:

Only 32.7% of the respondents said they were prepared to contribute towards offsetting the cost of canceling the meeting, whereas 65 % declared their unwillingness to do so.

This bothers me because it seems like the overriding concern is not so much the ethics of the law but the financials of the conference, which is really not something I can feel too bad about. I, for one, said I couldn't contribute money to offset the cost of canceling the conference because I'm a graduate student and thus not in a strong financial position to do such things. (It's also why I can't justify leaving the MAA. I would like remain eligible for their graduate student grants in the next couple of years. That may sound greedy, but that's where I am right now, professionally.) I obviously have no idea what conversations took place behind closed doors, but I hope it wasn't focused so much on financial considerations, but rather included some discussion of the actual ethics involved, and why people felt strongly about this issue. The letter as it stands doesn't reflect that.

Another Damned Medievalist said...

@Aunt Pansy

Churlish it may seem, but for those of us not privy to the workings of the committee (how are members to know how the letter was written?), all we have is what is in front of us. And that is a document that is carefully neutral, does not really address the reasons so many of us objected to holding the meeting in Tempe, and reveals very little.

Frankly, I'd have been happier had the letter simply said, "you know, we're really sorry, because a substantial number of members, and even some members of the EC, feel so strongly about this, and we understand those concerns. We are especially unhappy that some of our members might not attend because they are worried about being submitted to racial profiling, or that we might be sending a message that the MAA approves of such things. But given that there was not overwhelming support on either side, and given that we are not sure what our legal position would be if we canceled (because of our obligation for fiduciary responsibility, or whatever), we are going to go ahead. We understand that many members will not be attending, and would like to set up a working group to set some policies for dealing with the sorts of issues this has raised, because honestly, we're just not prepared for this."

But that's not the letter we got, and even though I appreciate being polled, even though I appreciate that this must have been an incredibly craptastic situation for the members of the EC to be in, and one I'd not like to deal with, I can only analyze the text in front of me. And that text really didn't reveal any of the nuances that are in your comment, nuances that might have elicited far different responses.