Students react to untimely closing of MPW Program

The 43-year-old Masters of Professional Writing program is slated to shut its doors in May of 2016, but its students and alumni are determined to save the program.

This past November, Steve Kay, the Dean of the Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences announced that the program will no longer be accepting incoming students and will graduate its last class in 2016.

In a statement, Kay said that the decision to cut the program was for business reasons.

“I recognize the excellent pedagogy of the MPW program, and have made this determination solely as a business decision,” Kay said. “I have complete confidence in the current program director, Brighde Mullins, and will work in partnership with the program’s leadership and in consultation with college faculty to maintain the high quality of this program through the next couple years as it draws to a close with its final class.”

Howard Ho, our MPW program specialist, said there is some confusion over what Kay referred to as a “business decision.” Students and faculty have received no response from him in inquiries about the reasoning to end the otherwise successful program.

“We are a pretty low maintenance program. In terms of expenses we always come in under budget,” Ho said. “However, we’re not connected to a larger program and I think that perhaps we’re not seen as having an umbrella organization so maybe that’s what the business decision refers to, a reorganization in a certain way, but it’s unclear.”

MPW students and alumni have launched the “Campaign for USC MPW” in order to open a dialogue with Kay about how to preserve the program and how to find a place for it at USC.

The group’s most recent campaign effort is a letter-writing campaign aimed at Dean Kay and the Dornsife administration. They hope to explain the value of the program and how the group is dedicated toward helping the administration find a place for MPW at USC.

“The Dean has not offered any reasoning in his business decision. We have reached out with no response, but we would like to have a discussion and hear an explanation about why the program is closing,” Channing Sarget, a current MPW student and the Campaign for USC MPW chair, said.

One of the benefits of MPW is that it allows students to complete the program over the course of five years, Sargent said. As a working professional, this was one of the unique qualities that led Sargent to USC’s MPW program.

“MPW is so attractive because it is geared toward professionalism, so it allows many working adults to take the time they need to complete the program,” Sargent said.

Doug Greco is one such student who planned to take advantage of MPW’s flexibility. Greco is in his first year of the program, and due to his need to seek employment during the course of completing his degree, he said he depended on the option of completing the degree in up to five years.

“I made the decision to come to USC and pay over  $15,000 a semester in tuition, plus student loans, but that decision was made with the understanding I had five years to complete the program. Now that I have to complete the program in three years it limits my options and makes it much more difficult not having the flexibility that I needed,” Greco said.

Sargent was equally surprised by the dean’s decision.

“I was totally shocked and blindsided by the news. The student body’s perspective was that there has been no sign that our program was in danger, and in fact it was quite the opposite,” Sargent said. “MPW has [an] excellent reputation at the epicenter of the USC and Los Angeles literary communities.”

9 replies
  1. Millicent B Accardi
    Millicent B Accardi says:

    MPW has over 40 years of graduates, and when the program closes in 2016, we will have no affiliation and no longer a “home” at USC.
    What will happen to references and queries for grants and work? What school will we donate money to as alumni? USC is BUILT upon community and the value of its education. MPW alums will have nowhere to go.
    We already face challenges explaining our hybrid Masters in Professional Writing degree. After MPW closes, we’ll also find ourselves even more complicated explanations and tap dances, “you see my program was closed.”

  2. Antonia Block
    Antonia Block says:

    I’m a sophomore who was planning on pursuing the MPW as a part of USC’s progressive degree program (wherein one can begin taking graduate courses senior year and reduce one’s time to masters degree). I am currently deferring this school year for personal reasons, to return fall 2014, and to graduate 2017– one year after this program is slated for close. Has anyone thought of beginning a petition to help save the program? I chose USC largely because of their innovative interdisciplinary mission, and because of the progressive degree and MPW programs. I am very angry that anyone graduating beyond 2016 will be essentially stripped of this opportunity.

  3. Caron Tate
    Caron Tate says:

    I think we’re getting off track responding to someone who clearly knows nothing about our program. We know that if the program had “no reputation” and were, in fact so “vastly overshadowed,” we wouldn’t be getting the opportunities that come to us by virtue of having attended, and our staff would not be chockablock with Guggenheim, Emmy, Academy and other such award winners and nominees. It really isn’t possible for someone who isn’t a multi-genre writer to appreciate what this amazing program has to offer. Yes, there is a film program at USC, but I’m not clear what that has to do with my ability and wish to write film scripts AND other genres. The issue here is that the only outstanding, amazing program of its type in this country (and perhaps in the world), should not go away. It’s not for people who only want to, or are only able to, write in one form (and I applaud that ability–to me a writer is a writer), but the MPW program should continue to exist.

  4. Alice V.
    Alice V. says:

    What’s bewildering about the administration’s decision is that they are handling it the way they are. I mean, it sounds like the students and faculty were given no warning and that the reasons they were given for the program’s closing were vague at best. I don’t understand why the dean doesn’t seem more willing to meet with the students to discuss it. I mean, they’re still students, don’t they have SOME rights?

  5. WhitneyS.
    WhitneyS. says:

    mpwhat, why don’t you tell us your affiliation with any of LA’s literary communities, and give us a point of reference for your opinion on the program? That way, we’ll know whether we can put any stock in your comment. As it stands, it looks that you know nothing about MPW. I am a second-year student that applied to and was accepted into each of the MFA programs to which I applied. I chose MPW, and have been continuously thankful that I made such a wise decision. MPW has exceeded all of my desires and expectations for a graduate creative writing program. The faculty is comprised of LA’s top writers; the pedagogy is the embodiment of excellence in education; the curriculum is exciting and challenging. Not only has my writing improved ten fold since being in the program, but my world view has expanded, and my position as a literary artist able to make a living doing what I love has been solidified. I went in to the program as a producer who wanted to finally do what has always been my passion – writing. I am now working on my first book, and am making most of my living (ie, paying my bills), with freelance writing for publications that three years ago I was only dreaming about writing for one day. And I am one of only hundreds of other students/alumni who are living proof of MPW’s excellent recognizability, reputation, and, more importantly, results.

  6. Kelly Rudnicki
    Kelly Rudnicki says:

    MPWHAT…would you like to share specifically what you mean when you say “MPW has no reputation in either the USC or LA literary communities, etc?” Can you cite a specific example to back this puzzling claim of yours?

  7. Carolyn Howard-Johnson
    Carolyn Howard-Johnson says:

    I am a USC graduate and have taught writing at other universities and at writer conferences across the US and have written how-to books for writers. I believe writers’ programs are more relevant now than they have ever been before. We need writers who understand the gamut of what it means to write–language, creativity, formatting, editing, marketing, publishing industry idiosyncrasies. To be a fully equipped writer, one needs programs like USC’s. This decision does not fit with what I see as USC’s overall mission.

  8. mpwhat
    mpwhat says:

    MPW has no reputation in either the USC or Los Angeles literary communities because it is vastly overshadowed by the multiple literary, creative writing, journalism, and/or film degree programs already and far more recognizably in existence at USC and in Los Angeles. USC is doing the students in this program a favor by saving them the $15,000+ a year they’re spending on a degree that seems invented to anyone more than a mile away from this campus (and most of those on it, as well).

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