The Write Stuff

U of All People missed MOOC mania, but it's not too late for it to get on the bandwagon for low-residency, high-priced M.F.A. degrees, David Galef writes.

June 12, 2015

U of All People has missed more than a few boats in academia, including MOOCs and nanosemesters. But one trend we’re determined to ride is the low-residency M.F.A. degree.

Or at least Professor Ronald Whittaker is. As a Victorian specialist and novelist manqué in the English department, he leads the undergraduate creative writing program at U of All People, having published a short story in the small-press journal Journal 15 years ago. Since 2010, he has announced his intention to increase the presence of creative writing on campus, but he lacks the numbers. At present, the department has only Whittaker and Michael Ames, a poet whose day job is composition and more composition.

But a low-residency M.F.A. program doesn’t really have to be a part of campus any more than a limpet mine needs a limpet. Successful programs have arisen in the unlikeliest of schools, and U of All People certainly qualifies in that regard. It even has the potential to generate revenue or, as the dean of liberal arts put it in a closed meeting, “make more money than a cow at a milking convention.” Accordingly, Professor Whittaker has drawn up a program proposal and started pushing it by the 17 different committees whose approval are necessary before it goes through 17 other committees, the last of which is tasked solely with changing all commas to semicolons.

But resources and staffing remain real gaps, which Professor Whittaker has taken pains to cover. Below is an abridged form of the proposal, version 13b:

A Low-Residency M.F.A. Program for All People

Rationale: The purpose of a low-residency M.F.A. program in creative writing is to empower those individuals who are tired of their boring jobs and figure that writing is easier than working. To that end, this low-residency program will provide the illusion of future artistic employment as those enrolled learn the meaning of fourth drafts.

Market research: The 10-mile radius around the U of All People campus alone, a rural town whose chief business is sorghum, boasts 500 wannabe authors, eager to experience the writer’s life of rejection, alienation and poverty. Moreover, a hastily circulated questionnaire shows that many of Professor Whittaker’s creative writing students would happily repeat the course.

Program of studies: The AW low-residency M.F.A. program at U of AP comprises 40 credit hours or 13 modules, whatever a module is:

--3 workshops, I, II, and III. Taught by Professor Ronald Whittaker, Ph.D.

--3 craft seminars, including the Victorian novel, Victorian prose and Tennyson. Also basic composition refresher course. Dr. Lardon Thwaitker.

--1 reading series. Arnold Hittwaker and Michael Ames.

--3 panels on editing and publishing, put on by Roland Tweakhirt Associates.

--1 publishing internship at R. W. Press. Repeatable for credit.

--Short-term subjects (take 2):

  • Writing pedagogy (teach one of Michael Ames’s composition classes).
  • Putting a book together (assemble pages from Arnold Hittwaker’s unfinished novel, Strewn Boats).
  • Networking in the publishing world (the English department chair has an uncle who once worked at Scribner’s).

--Terms of residence: Students come to the U of All People campus twice a year for 10-day periods to start their semesters, after which they return to wherever they came from, and Ronald Whittaker will stay in touch.

--Thesis project: all students must complete a book-length work of words.

--Consultant’s report, still to come, to be presented by I. M. Canine (anyone can be a consultant).


David Galef directs the creative writing program at Montclair State University. His latest book is the short story collection My Date With Neanderthal Woman (Dzanc Books).


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