FAQ about the New Forum Structure

Converting Divisions and Discussion Groups to Forums

What happens to the executive committees of divisions and discussion groups during this transition?

Until the terms divisions and discussion groups have been updated to forums in the MLA constitution, the executive committees for forums will be called convention executive committees. The convention executive committees that are carried over from the division and discussion group structure with only a name change will remain as constituted. Otherwise, forums will be treated as follows:

  • Groups that split: Current executive committee members are being asked to identify the forum they wish to be associated with. Replacement elections will be held in 2014 or 2015 to fill the remaining seats.
  • Groups that merge: All ten current executive committee members will serve on the initial convention executive committee of the new forum. Each year, two members will rotate off and be replaced by one jointly elected member; after five years, the executive committee will have only five members.
  • Prospective new forums: Members are nominating themselves for these positions by commenting in the “Volunteer” discussion thread for each prospective forum on the Commons. If there are more than four self-nominations, the Program Committee will select the initial executive committee. (If there are fewer than four self-nominations, the group is not ready to be considered.) Each year, one election is held. In the first year, one executive committee member will be added; subsequently, one appointed member will rotate off each year, such that after five years the executive committee is wholly elected.

Establishing New Forums

How will a prospective new forum be selected to submit a formal proposal to the Program Committee?

A Commons group has been created for each prospective new forum, in which interested members can gather signatures, volunteer to serve on the founding executive committee, and discuss the forum’s areas of interest. The Program Committee will select groups that show evidence of sufficient participation—including at least thirty-five signatures and five leadership volunteers, as well as active discussions within the Commons group—by 15 June 2014. The Program Committee will name a four-member founding executive committee from among the volunteers; that executive committee will be invited to submit a formal proposal.

I’m interested in volunteering for a leadership role in a prospective new forum. What does being an executive committee member entail?

The executive committees will arrange sessions at the MLA Annual Convention, elect representatives to serve in the MLA Delegate Assembly, and provide information of interest to their members through association periodicals or communications with forum members. Forums will advise appropriate MLA committees on research and pedagogical needs in their fields of interest and may propose to the Executive Council projects that the association might wish to undertake.

The committee, as a committee, will be responsible for conducting the following items of business at its closed meeting during the annual convention: (1) electing from the forum membership a representative to the Delegate Assembly whenever a vacancy occurs; (2) selecting at least two nominees, as described above, and at least two alternates for election to the executive committee; (3) selecting a current member of the executive committee to assume all or part of the responsibilities of either the chair or the secretary in any year in which the individual whose turn it is to hold that office is unable to serve (e.g., is spending a sabbatical year abroad); (4) planning programs or special projects to promote the forum’s scholarly or professional concerns and submitting such programs or projects to the MLA office for referral to appropriate MLA committees or to the MLA Executive Council.

I’m on the executive committee of a division or discussion group. Can I volunteer to be an executive committee member for a new forum?

Members can serve on only one executive committee at a time. You may only serve on a new forum’s executive committee if your term on an existing executive committee will end by the time the new forum begins to function as a convention entity. (For forums approved by the Program Committee in September 2014, for example, your term on an existing executive committee should have ended by January 2015 for you to be able to serve on the new forum’s executive committee.)

What should a new forum’s formal proposal look like? When will it be due?

The formal proposal will consist of a letter of application of at least two but no more than five pages, with a justification of the need for the forum and a history of the development of the field covered by the forum. The proposal should also list any past convention sessions and other meetings that show evidence of interest. Proposals in this first round will be due 1 September 2014.

What if my group isn’t selected to submit a proposal in the first round?

Those groups not selected in the first round should continue organizing; they may be selected in subsequent rounds.

Is there a cutoff point after which a prospective new forum that is not selected to submit a formal proposal will be dropped?

We recognize that starting a new group may take time. If a group has not demonstrated sufficient participation after five years, however, its preapproval may be dropped. If members wish to establish that group thereafter, they’ll need to use the full process for new groups that the Program Committee will establish.

What is the process for proposing a forum that isn’t on the preapproved list?

We hope that the new structure inspires members to imagine other new areas that should be represented within the association. However, to test our processes for launching new forums, we are deferring requests for new forums other than those already preapproved by the Executive Council until fall 2016. Members may then propose additional new forums for the 2018 convention.

Questions about the Convention

How many guaranteed convention sessions will each forum have in the new system?

Forums that were previously divisions or discussion groups keep their previous allocation of guaranteed sessions, for now. New forums, once approved, will be allocated one guaranteed session. In each five-year review, a forum’s guaranteed session allocation will be reassessed.

How soon will the new forums be able to organize sessions?

Those that successfully present formal proposals to the Program Committee in fall 2014 will be entitled to participate in the 2016 convention.

Will the convention sessions that have been called forums be renamed?

Yes, these sessions will be called plenaries starting with the 2016 convention.

Questions about Forum Reviews

Will forums that were previously divisions or discussion groups be subject to the five-year review process?

Yes; all forums will now be regularly reviewed.

When will the five-year reviews begin?

The five-year reviews will begin in 2020.

Questions about Governance

How will forums be represented on the Delegate Assembly?

The Elections Committee will review the structure of the Delegate Assembly in fall 2014.

Other Questions

Is there a limit to the number of forums I can belong to?

Starting with the 2016 membership year, you will be asked to choose no more than five primary forum affiliations. You may, however, join as many forum groups on MLA Commons as you wish and participate in these forums’ discussions.

Does the number of new forum petitions I sign limit the number of other forums I can have as primary affiliations?

No; although you may sign only five petitions for new forums, petitioning for a new forum does not count as a primary affiliation. If that forum is later approved by the Program Committee, you will be able to choose it as a primary affiliation, and it will count toward your five allotted primary forum affiliations.

If you have other questions about the new forum structure, please e-mail forums@mla.org. For help getting started on MLA Commons, you can read a post about creating your Commons account, take a video tour of the site, or e-mail commons@mla.org.

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