Wednesday, April 01, 2015

The Budget Cuts Become Real--Letter #29

Dear Governor Ducey,

Today I received a note from my chair telling me that because of the budget cuts the creative writing course caps will increase by two students a class. That might not seem like many to you. It’s not, in some scheme of things. That’s only 8 more students. But for the university, that’s pretty good money. There are six and a half full time faculty in my area. That’s 52 more students. Undergraduates are charged $1,958 for a 3 credit hour class.  That’s $101,816 more for the university. We won’t be making a huge dent in the $17,000,000 in cuts to our university but every little bit helps, right?

Strangely, no matter how many more students we teach, we receive no increase in salary. And, in fact, we may receive pay cuts in the form of furlough. It’s difficult, in creative writing classes, to absorb additional students. Each week, 4 students turn in poems, essays, and short stories. The faculty write extensive comments on each of them. The students also write comments. We write comments on the comments. We spend class time discussing how the writing works, what is the voice, what is an image, how is the dialogue, where is the scene, what are the verbs, what ways might we suggest to improve the piece. Every week, I write 3000 words on student work. I tell the students about their comments, this will help them in the workplace. They’ll learn how to respond to their colleagues’ work in critical and helpful ways. Their creative thinking skills will help them problem solve, innovate, invent, and develop new things. I talk to them like a capitalist because that’s the society we live in. (I also tell them that the time to write is probably the most valuable thing they’ll get in college. That they should take the time for their art regardless of its monetary worth. But I don’t tell you that.) These classes are mind-blowing for the students. Not just mine—but creative writing classes everywhere let students speak for themselves, discuss books they love, try to emulate those books and invent their own idea of the book, follow their ideas out until the very last thread and then try to figure out how to tie it all together. Some complain about MFA programs proliferating. How can it not? Creativity explodes. It is exponential. Let it erupt.  

Taken from the AWP Writer Website: “The Association of Writers and Writing Programs surveys conducted periodically since 1978 indicate that most teachers of writing find they are most effective in the workshop format, and that the majority of workshops have a class size of 11–20 students. AWP recommends that workshop size not exceed 15, and that 12 be viewed as desirable and most effective. 12 is half of 24. 24 is one less than the number we will now teach in our undergraduate writing workshop classes. It should be noted that many institutions define “writing workshop” as equivalent to teaching two courses because of the additional work required in conferences, tutorials, and thesis preparation that writing students need for the development of their work.”

We’re already teaching double the number of students recommended in our workshop classes. Why not two more? With two more students in a class, it’s not that bad. They’ll just get a tiny bit less time for workshop. A little bit fewer of those 3000 words. They’ll survive. We’ll survive. The students? Well, I’m sure they don’t read the AWP recommendations any more than you do. At least, the undergraduates don’t. Our MFA students might. We hope they’re not counting class mates. We hope they all know we will do double the amount of work for them. Teaching at a university is pretty volunteer-oriented anyway. We don’t HAVE to write 3000 words a week on student work. We don’t have to teach new texts every semester. We don’t have to assign 3 stories per student a semester. We don’t have to host extracurricular reading series. We don’t have to write grants. We don’t have to have a literary magazine. One of my colleagues, who teaches 4 classes a semester, also volunteers to help run the undergraduate lit magazine. She also serves on committees. She also advises. She helped draft a ten-page document on learning outcomes She also runs a literary magazine of her own. She also supports our reading series by hosting guest writers. Another of my colleagues co-edits that lit mag with her. He supports the reading series by helping to host guests. He read on several theses since one of our colleagues is on leave. Another colleague runs the Northern Arizona Playwriting Showcase. She mentors our graduate students to teach creative writing. She works on committees. She nominates and writes letters of incredible opportunity for her students and her colleagues. She also helped draft a ten-page document on learning outcomes. Another colleague works tirelessly to find funding for our students. She writes curriculum proposals and drafts assessment protocol. She also helped draft a ten-page document on learning outcomes. Another colleague took over for me as director while I’m on sabbatical. He’s gone to bat for our area to make sure we don’t lose more than we is obviously, already lost. He hosts agents and editors in his class. He sits on faculty senate.  Each of helps our students find venues to publish. Each of us brings new writers into the classroom. We chaperone them to the AWP conference. We spend entire days working on their theses. We host guest writers. We attend student readings. We write grants for the series. We advise literary magazines. We respond to student emails in the middle of the night. We write them letters of rec two days before the deadline. We give them books we love and think would serve them well. We coach them on careers and we coach them on work-life balance and we coach them on how to be writers in a world that claims to not value writers but, in the end, requires creative writing for almost everything, including writing letters to the governor. The more work we are assigned, the less we can volunteer. Double the number of recommended students in a workshop. It will be hard to keep up the pace.

I wonder what it would be like if you were asked to do double the recommended governing (please, god, no). What if you woke up this morning and were asked to govern a whole other state? What if it wasn’t a Republican state? What if you had to govern something like Oregon or New York? What if your constituents expected government to not only fix their roads but to educate their students? You don’t get double the salary or double the staff. For two states, you must now make sure the lawns are mowed at the park. You must scrub graffiti off the walls of the subway. You must decide whose water rights trump whose and who has to clean up the polluted ones (You. You. Remember. There’s just one of you). You must make sure the fire departments can put out fires. (You’re good with a hose, right?) You should also make sure the garbage is collected. Make sure the toilets flush. Make sure the prisoners are locked up in their prisons (this one will be easy for you. You love prisons, yes?). Make sure kids aren’t being beaten. Make sure rapists are prosecuted. Make sure the snow is plowed (it snows in Oregon. In New York. Even in Arizona). Make sure the teachers are certified, even if they’re not quiet. Make sure you answer each letter from your constituents. That’s your first job, right? Listening to your constituents. So many letters. Double what you had before.

1 comment:

Lisa B. said...

I just want to say that I am reading your letters and it gives me heart that you are writing them, even when circumstances are so dire and keep getting direr. Thank you for helping me take heart.