Author Archives: Meredith Farmer

CFP: Reading The Fine Print: Understanding Academic Freedom ​(MLA 2019)

Academic freedom is an “indispensable requisite for unfettered teaching and research in institutions of higher education” that has been seen as a cornerstone that enables our work since 1940. It is framed as the “core mission” of the American Association of University Professors. But the elements of it that are linked to a “professional standard” are ultimately described as “tied to custom and practice.” They are separate from a legal definition, which requires an understanding of both constitutional and contract law that many of us simply do not have. What this ultimately means is that most members of the Modern Language Association work without a technical or practical understanding of what “academic freedom” really is. We labor under a belief that we are protected by a legal and professional right that makes it possible for us to fully engage in the classroom and in public forums, even if our work challenges traditional modes of thinking or raises difficult questions. But then we see a rescinded job offer—or a graduate student is removed from a classroom after being doxed. If we turn to published essays in hopes of answers we are met with titles that range from the explicit “Academic Freedom Has Limits. Where They Are Isn’t Always Clear” to the more pointed “Can the Adjunct Speak?” And in this context it seems both pressing and timely to outline and then analyze the reach and limitations of “Academic Freedom.”

This panel takes its departure from an assumption that “Academic Freedom” does not actually extend to all the people or places that many of us imagine it does. Its real and imagined protections have also been troubled by external pressures and internal conflicts that are complex enough to merit a thirty-four page report on its “current legal landscape.” The classroom no longer seems safe even for professors with tenure, in a moment that Twitter can substantially alter an entire career. Any given exchange can be publicized widely, which makes it difficult to use the classroom as a space for intellectual exploration and genuine exchange. Finally, this is even more problematic for adjuncts and graduate student laborers, who are often asked to teach transformative but emotionally and politically complex courses in fields like ethnic studies or queer theory without allegedly requisite protections, which threatens both individuals and entire fields.

This panel seeks to address a series of related questions:

  1. What does academic freedom actually cover?
  2. What are its paradoxes, ironies, and contradictions?
  3. Who actually has academic freedom?  Does it extend to professors without tenure?  What about graduate student laborers?
  4. How can we protect ourselves (especially our most vulnerable professors)?
  5. How can we protect the University (especially its most vulnerable areas of study)?

Our hope is that while we may never develop a clear sense of what our rights and protections are, this panel will provide a stronger foundation: an overview of the reach, limitations, and complexities of academic freedom, along with some sense of where to turn as our work as professors is threatened.

How to Participate:
This will be a roundtable at the MLA in January 2019. Five participants will give eight-minute presentations and then take part in a long Q&A. If you’d like to join this conversation please send a 250-word abstract and vita to Andrés Rabinovich ( and Meredith Farmer ( by 15 March 2018. You can see the brief official MLA CFP here.

Possibilities of the Public Humanities: A CSGSP Roundtable at the MLA

We hope you’ll be able to join us at one of our three panels at the MLA this week!

Saturday, 3:30 PM, Sheraton—New York Ballroom West.

If you have a public humanities project, you’re also more than welcome to circulate handouts with information about how to get involved. (Think miniature poster session).


Possibilities of the Public Humanities

The humanities are in the midst of one of the most challenging moments in our collective history.  And that declaration is by no means surprising.  The fields that find ourselves under the umbrella of The Modern Language Association have been pushed to defend ourselves against claims that we lack relevance to the “real world.”  Budgets have been slashed; tenure lines have been cut; and entire departments have disappeared, gutted by both private institutions and antagonistic state legislatures.  And yet in this moment of crisis we find at least one silver lining.  A growing number of scholars have escaped the so-called “ivory tower,” working to bring our interests and  our work into a broader world.  These scholars, who we have grouped together as contributors to the “public humanities,” have found innovative ways to actually make a difference for publics that exist beyond the walls of our conferences, our classrooms, and our colleges or universities.

“Possibilities of the Public Humanities” is unabashedly a service-oriented roundtable, organized by the Committee on the Status of Graduate Students in the Profession (CSGSP).  Our goal is to simultaneously (1) showcase examples of the compelling public work that has been produced in ways that might inspire new projects and (2) provide our audience with examples of the resources that they can use to develop and implement their own projects.  After a very short introduction six panelists will offer brief overviews of their work, which will shift into discussions about the conditions of possibility for their projects.  Panelists will speak to (1) the ways that they initially reached out and forged connections with broader publics, (2) their attempts to make the most of institutional resources, and (3) the things that they have learned from their own work.  Each speaker will present for 6-8 minutes, and then our respondent will contextualize these comments from an administrative perspective, addressing the ways that both departments and institutions can help encourage and position public projects. We will actively moderate, leaving 20 minutes for a substantive discussion.

 Since this panel is being sponsored and organized by the CSGSP,  it will be directed towards graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and junior faculty members who are imagining possible futures for themselves. Our roundtable will help them think more carefully and more concretely about the kinds of projects they might pursue, the kinds of time commitments they would need to make, and what they should know as they embark on work that doesn’t yet have clear, established paths for getting started—or for receiving institutional recognition and support.  Despite this target audience, we also anticipate that many of our roundtable’s discussions and questions will also appeal to senior scholars who are thinking about starting new projects in the public humanities.  Some of our speakers will be actively recruiting new collaborators and contributors, and we also invite any person or organization that wants to share information about a public humanities project to circulate handouts with information about how to get involved (a miniature poster session).

We have selected participants who represent key fields and practices that collectively shape the public humanities:

Jessica Richard (Associate Professor, Wake Forest University) will discuss The 18th-Century Common, a public humanities project for enthusiasts of 18th-century studies that she co-founded and co-edits. The project offers a space for scholars of all levels to share research with nonacademic readers.

Xine Yao (SSHRC Postdoctoral Research Fellow, University of British Columbia) will describe developing her podcast, PhDivas, along with a new project to oversee a podcast series for C19: The Society of Nineteenth-Century Americanists.

 Kym Weed (Graduate Student, University of North Carolina), will outline her work on a medical humanities project, which she developed as Assistant Director of a new Health Humanities Lab that she helped shape.

Colin Dewey (Assistant Professor, California State University Maritime Academy) will introduce the “Cal Maritime Ocean Initiative,” an interdisciplinary campus-based research group that connects students and faculty with environmental activists and citizen-science projects in the Bay Area.

Victoria Papa (Assistant Professor, Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts) will discuss a course that examines the intersection of trauma and pedagogy through a particular case study: a community partnership and service-learning writing course, developed in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing.

Jennie Lightweis-Goff (Lecturer, University of Mississippi) will speak to the challenges and compromises of teaching in maximum security prisons in New Orleans and in Mississippi.

These presentations will be followed by a response by Armanda Lewis (Director of the Office of Educational Technology, New York University), who will contextualize these presentations from an administrative perspective.  She will speak to the different levels of departmental and institutional support that help encourage and position public scholars: individual interdisciplinary thinking, departmental focus on project-based learning, and institutional partnerships shaped by clear, multi-layered incentives.

Meredith Farmer (Assistant Teaching Professor, Wake Forest University) will preside and direct the subsequent discussion.