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Catherine Porter '62 Elected President of the Modern Language Association

After 18 years of working with the Modern Language Association (MLA), Catherine Porter ’62 has been elected president of the 126-year-old organization, which serves English and foreign language teachers and has 30,000 members in 100 countries.

Porter received a degree in French from Pomona, and then went on to Yale for her Master’s and Ph.D. She taught at Wilson College, University of Hartford and Cornell University before joining the State University of New York at Cortland in 1969. She stayed there until her retirement in 2001, and is now Professor Emerita of French for the university.

“After a long period of inactive membership in the MLA—I was the one who stayed home with the children while my husband gave papers at the convention!—I became involved by fits and starts,” recalls Porter, who resides in New York City. Her first post with the association came in 1990 when she was invited “out of the blue” to represent her region by running for the Delegate Assembly. She later served on the MLA’s Committee on Academic Freedom, the Organizing Committee for the Delegate Assembly and then on the Executive Council.

“When my term ended on the Council in 1999, I had some withdrawal pangs and thought wistfully that it would be nice to serve on another committee one day. [But one] day in 2006, I found out that, instead, I’d been nominated as a candidate for the presidency,” says Porter. She agreed to run and was elected. The post is a three-year term, where the elected official serves as second vice president for one year, vice president for one year, and finally as president for one year. Porter, after two years as second vice president and then vice president, just began her presidency on January 1.

The MLA is perhaps best known for its annual convention and style guide for students and scholars. It also publishes reports on matters of professional concern, a major peer-reviewed journal (PMLA), and a series focused on teaching individual works, as well as works to influence public policy and produces guidelines on related topics like recommended class sizes and pay scales.

“While the MLA has no power to enforce its recommendations,” says new president Porter, “it has a certain visibility as the largest professional organization of its kind. Its public statements often draw notice and carry a certain weight as the expression of a consensus as to the best practices in our profession.”