A Modest Proposal for MLA 2016: Endorse Skype Interviews

Question: On what issue do ChronicleVitae/Slate blogger and frequent MLA critic Rebecca Schuman and MLA Executive Director Rosemary Feal agree?

Answer: Skype (or videoconference) videos instead of, or at the very least as a valid alternative to, the MLA conference interview.

Schuman reports that some potential candidates had their interview invitations withdrawn when they requested a Skype interview instead.  I can’t speak for all institutions, but that ought to be against the rules.

Should not having $1000 to spend on travel preclude a first-round interview? (And it’s really more like $1500 than $1000, which is a lot of money.) No, it shouldn’t. This is a first-round interview, with campus interviews still to come. The members of the department will still get to meet the second-round candidates as usual.

One angle not yet addressed in various articles about this is the perspective of the search committee.  Maybe some schools send the entire committee, but many more send 1-2 members to do the interviews, partially funding them, with possible assistance from whatever department members are available at MLA.

With a Skype interview, the entire search committee could arrange to be present to interview candidates, thereby giving more members exposure to the candidates and allowing for more input from the entire committee. Those not at MLA wouldn’t have to rely on the reports and notes of those who went, as now happens.

This is the sort of issue that the MLA should put its weight behind, at least to the point of having a discussion or resolution about it in the Delegate Assembly. It may not be as weighty or contentious as some of the issues debated over the past few years, but it will have a direct impact on the organization’s most financially vulnerable members.

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