Rosemary G. Feal, the executive director of the Modern Language Association since summer 2002, has informed the Executive Council that she plans to step down when her third five-year term concludes in summer 2017. The Executive Council will appoint a search committee for Feal’s successor at its February 2016 meeting and aims to have a new executive director in place by the time of her departure.
“My abiding respect for our mission and for our members’ work has kept me passionately committed to this extraordinary organization,” Feal said. “Fifteen years is a long time, and, while I have enjoyed every moment, it’s now the right move for the association to plan for a smooth leadership transition and for me to pursue new opportunities.”
MLA President Anthony Appiah said, “In a decade and a half of challenges—the explosion of nontenured faculty, new technological resources, falling financial state support, and rising hostility to the humanities—Rosemary has led the MLA’s response smartly, knowledgeably, and with great good humor. We owe her an enormous debt of gratitude. She will be sorely missed.”
During her tenure, Feal has been a steadfast champion for language study. The 2007 report Foreign Languages and Higher Education: New Structures for a Changed World has been highly influential in colleges and universities, and the ADFL-MLA Language Consultancy Service, administered by the Association of Departments of Foreign Languages, has made a direct impact on language departments across the United States. In 2015 Feal was appointed to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences’ Commission on Language Learning.
The MLA has long been recognized as a leader among associations for its scholarly communication program. Under Feal’s direction, the MLA produced guidelines for evaluating scholarship for tenure and promotion and for assessing work in digital humanities and digital media. Since she assumed her position, the association has made Profession an open-access electronic journal, launched the scholarly exchange platform MLA Commons, and built the Commons Open Repository Exchange, a library-quality repository for sharing and archiving digital work. The MLA International Bibliography continues to be an ever-growing and indispensable scholarly resource used worldwide. Feal has also overseen a revolutionary revision of MLA style that will be released in April 2016.
Feal has also led the MLA in envisioning new forms of scholarly collaboration. As chair of the MLA Program Committee, she has been a guiding force behind profound changes in the MLA Annual Convention, such as the shift to January dates, new session formats, and a reimagining of the divisional structure. In the past year, she has been instrumental in the development of the MLA’s first international symposium, to be held in Düsseldorf in June 2016.
Feal has made advocacy for the profession a priority for the organization. She has supported the Executive Council in documenting and publicizing the changes in the profession, charting the course for better working conditions for teachers of languages and literatures, and collaborating with allies to resist the erosion of tenure and academic freedom. The MLA has proposed necessary reforms to graduate degree programs and has recommended a more capacious notion of the doctoral dissertation. Expanding the career horizons of PhDs is another project that Feal has spearheaded; Connected Academics, a multiyear project funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, provides thousands of teachers and scholars the opportunity to learn about the broad humanities workforce and prepare themselves for participation in it.
The changes that Feal has made in the administration of the MLA have set a foundation for a strong future. The association now has operating reserves that far exceed recommended standards, ensuring a measure of stability in a time of great change. The amount of funds given in travel grants for graduate students and adjuncts has quadrupled during her tenure, and every eligible request has been met. The MLA is a model that other associations seek to follow in matters such as governance, board and staff cooperation, and fiduciary oversight.
“Rosemary’s leadership has had everything to do with sustaining and enhancing the MLA’s financial health and well-being during and since the Great Recession,” said Domna C. Stanton, an MLA trustee, the association’s 2005 president, and a former editor of PMLA. “I am proud of the MLA’s standing among professional associations in the humanities and beyond, which is thanks in large measure to Rosemary’s skillful management and deployment of resources.”
Feal has served as vice president of the National Humanities Alliance, the advocacy coalition dedicated to the advancement of humanities education, research, preservation, and public programs. She has also been chair of the Conference of Administrative Officers of the American Council of Learned Societies and a member of the ACLS board of directors. Feal was a fellow of the American Council on Education in 2011–12, working with the Five Colleges, Inc., in Western Massachusetts. Coeditor of the SUNY Series in Latin American Iberian Thought and Culture, she is also an associate editor of the Afro-Hispanic Review and former senior consulting editor of the Latin American Literary Review.
Before coming to the MLA, Feal was professor of Spanish and chair of the department of modern languages and literatures at the University at Buffalo, State University of New York. “I have always been an enthusiastic classroom teacher, and I’d like to think I will find myself among students again in the near future,” she noted. “Teaching and learning is at the heart of what we do—after all, it’s what initially attracts MLA members to the association. I intend to be in learning and teaching mode for whatever career pursuits are next for me, and MLA members have given me excellent models to emulate.”