When you edit down the MLA convention, the problem isn't infantile provocativeness, as the Times writer suggests, but ideological non-deviationism. The papers are displays of party discipline.The writer suggests the act is wearing a bit thin.
To answer that first question: nothing. The Economics Department is apparently teaching writing now; the English Department having abdicated that function. To the extent that economists use inter alia Tom Sawyer or "The Road Not Taken" to introduce basic economic concepts, we're teaching the literature. But Modern Language Association types get to compete for tenured slots in English, Communication, various Area Studies centers, Anthropology, and for all I know Law.
What any of it has to do with teaching literature to America's college students remains as vexing a question to some today as it was a decade ago. There is, in fact, something achingly 90's about the whole affair. The association has come to resemble a hyperactive child who, having interrupted the grownups' conversation by dancing on the coffee table, can't be made to stop. Citing [Cal] Professor [Frederick] Crews's book in The Partisan Review last year, Sanford Pinsker said: "In my better moods, I try to convince myself that 'Postmodern Pooh' marks the end of the arrant foolishness that has turned literary studies into a laughingstock; in my darker moments, however, I fear that there are other, even more outrageous would-be celebrities hoping to cash in on whatever post-postmodernism turns out to be."
Or, as Mr. [Scott] McLemee [of the *ahem* Chronicle of Higher Education] put it: "The circus is looking pretty threadbare, and the ones trying to do the freak show aspect of it are looking silly now." And yes, many believe that the press is encouraging them by continuing to pay attention.