It is the intention of this document to contribute to the strengthening of doctoral education in the modern languages and literatures. Our disciplines face many challenges that have made change urgently needed, but we also have identified opportunities for innovation. Implementing these recommendations can facilitate the development of doctoral education. We know that some departments are already undertaking steps consistent with these recommendations; there is much experimentation under way, and that is for the good. For our fields to thrive into the future, doctoral study will have to evolve, even as it maintains a core commitment to the fundamental values of humanistic learning.
The specific recommendations in this report build on the overriding concerns that we believe are crucial for the future of doctoral study. The scholarly community must insist on maintaining excellence in our research and teaching, in particular by recognizing the wide range of intellectual paths through which we produce new knowledge. Similarly, we must be vigilant in maintaining and expanding access to advanced study in the language and literature fields; broad access to higher education infuses our fields with creativity while maximizing the contribution humanistic study can make throughout society. Many doctoral students will contribute to society through careers as teachers—throughout the education sector—but many will pursue career paths where the skills they acquired during graduate education will be used in other ways. It is very important to communicate endorsement for all career outcomes, both because we need to support our graduates and because the broad dispersion of humanistic values benefits society as a whole. Supporting graduate students means that the touchstone for a successful doctoral program is the recognition of the priority of graduate students’ learning needs in terms of their intellectual goals and their professional development.
To address all these concerns—maintaining excellence, guaranteeing access, validating diverse career outcomes, and focusing on student learning—requires drawing on resources beyond the borders of one department. The traditional view of the delivery of doctoral education as the purview of one department operating largely in isolation no longer applies. The quality of doctoral study requires drawing on the resources of the whole university through collaborations with scholars from other disciplines and with professional staff members often outside departments. The future of doctoral study also depends on recognizing the many publics, including those beyond the university and the traditional scholarly community, with which our scholarship and our students’ scholarship are already engaging productively. Therefore, although today’s graduate programs face severe challenges, we believe that the recommendations proposed here represent a program to achieve an intellectually exciting future for doctoral education in the modern languages and literatures.
Carlos J. Alonso, Columbia University
Russell A. Berman (chair), Stanford University
Sylvie Debevec Henning, East Carolina University
Lanisa Kitchiner, Smithsonian National Museum of African Art
Bethany Nowviskie, University of Virginia
Elizabeth Schwartz Crane, San Joaquin Delta College, CA
Sidonie Ann Smith, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
Kathleen Woodward, University of Washington, Seattle
Kathleen Fitzpatrick, director, MLA Office of Scholarly Communication
David Laurence, director, MLA Office of Research and ADE