Clarissa pointed me to this vile editorial by Russell Berman. I'm afraid I might have to quit the MLA again in protest. In my field, two years of course work for the PhD is not going to be enough. The reason is that students coming from Spanish majors simply have not read enough in their undergraduate programs. To do enough reading to be even minimally competent would require more than three or four years of course work, but two is ridiculous. This proposal would give an even bigger advantage to students from Latin America and Spain who have more extensive cultural capital coming in.
I know it takes a long time to get a PhD. But let's think for a moment about what level of erudition it takes to be a "doctor," or learned one, in literature. There are few prodigies in scholarship, because it takes time to absorb knowledge and develop originality. An originality based not on disconnection from the field, but from deep absorption.
Berman also proposes a kind of fixed, lockstep curriculum, streamlined to allow for quick progress. So students would not be exposed to the research of their faculty members (courses based on the interests of the faculty) but a kind of one-size-fits-all approach that would make graduate teaching deadly for all concerned. This streamlined approach would not have allowed Jill and I to do our "poetry and performance" seminar, for example.
In place of a dissertation, Berman proposes three articles. In practice, this would amount to three seminar papers. The so-called PhD would not really be an expert in anything in particular, having written 75 pages rather than 250. He or she would never have been exposed to the original research of the faculty, and so wouldn't have a clue to what research really is.
Why do we elect literature haters to the presidency of the MLA? People who have contempt for the life of the mind? First it as MLP, then Gerald Graff, and now Berman.