Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences Vice Dean for Academic Programs Steven Lamy announced this past week that the Master of Professional Writing program, which was slated to shut its doors in May of 2016, will find a new home at the Vermont College of Fine Arts.
Last November, Dornsife Dean Steve Kay informed MPW Program Director Brighde Mullins that the program would no longer be accepting incoming students and would graduate its last class in May 2016 due to a necessary “business decision.”
Now, current MPW students will have the option to either finish their degree at USC by May 2016 or receive full transfer credits from the MPW program at USC in order to complete any remaining graduation requirements to obtain a master of fine arts degree in writing from VCFA. Students will also have the third option of completing an expedited MFA degree at VCFA, if accepted into the program.
Current MPW instructor Trinie Dalton, who has also been an instructor in the MFA program at VCFA, will lead the new writing program in Vermont.
“They’re both programs I’ve felt at home in,” Dalton said. “While I’ll be directing the new full-residential program at VCFA, I still expect the experiences to be very similar in regards to high-quality student work, and passionate faculty members who are talented teachers as well as grand successes in their fields.”
Despite Dalton’s enthusiasm for the new program, students are now faced with the difficult decision of potentially choosing to relocate across the country to complete their degree.
Student Doug Greco said one of the benefits of the MPW program at USC was that the program offered students up to five years to complete the degree. Greco, who entered the program in 2013, valued MPW’s flexibility in allowing him until 2018 to graduate. After it was announced that the program would close in 2016, he made the decision to continue full-time in an effort to finish his degree by the deadline. Greco is now faced with the decision of whether he will continue as a full-time student to finish his degree at USC, or relocate to Vermont to finish his degree at VFCA.
“The reason I wanted more time to complete my degree [at USC] was so I could work full time here in L.A., so I would hope there would be some option for students who chose to do that route that would be able to continue to live in L.A.,” Greco said.
Though Greco would have preferred the program stay at USC, he said that moving the program to VCFA seems to be the best choice possible given the situation.
“I think the Vermont program is a great opportunity … The spirit of what we’ve heard so far is that they seem to be pretty flexible, and especially since it’s a smaller school they have a broad perspective on flexibility,” he said.
Additionally, VCFA is offering MPW alumni the choice of affiliating with their program. According to Lamy’s statement, MPW alumni can choose to “informally affiliate with either the USC MPW program or with VCFA’s graduate writing program, or with both.”
Some alumni, however, are concerned and confused about the different affiliation options. Lynda Rivers, who graduated from the MPW program in 2007, said she fears the program might not have as much weight with potential employers if there are no longer any USC MPW professors to support the alumni.
“It’s all shocking and confusing, and I don’t think anyone understands what it means,” Rivers said. “I’m angry and bitter that none of this was done with discussion … It just happened and now these poor students have a big decision to make.”
Furthermore, Rivers said she has been very disappointed with the way USC has treated alumni throughout the process of cancelling and then relocating the program. Rather, she has been much more impressed with VCFA’s welcoming attitude and how they have reached out to alumni in a positive and respectful way.
“We were sent a formal letter from Dean Lamy, and it referred to numerous topics but did not go into detail,” Rivers said. “Instead of taking time to understand and develop what they should say to alumni, they just sent out kind of a half-a– letter … they don’t understand we have invested a lot of time and money into MPW, and it’s very clear to us they want to wash their hands of us and be done, or at least that’s how they made us feel.”
For VCFA President Thomas Greene, it is very important that USC MPW students and alumni feel welcomed into the VCFA program.
“We want to give alumni [an] opportunity to be in touch with us as this program continues to grown and evolve and live,” Greene said.
Through affiliating with the VCFA program, MPW alumni will receive invitations to alumni events, be included in all alumni communications, receive an optional vcfa.edu e-mail address, have the opportunity to participate in postgraduate conferences and network with VCFA alumni from other programs.
“Our hope to is to build on the strength of both institutions,” Greene said. “I think when you look at faculty in this program it is a mix some folks from USC and some folks from Vermont it combines the best of both worlds.”