New Graduate Program Proposal: Nuts and Bolts

I’ve been writing the past few days about our new MFA proposal for a Low-Residency program in creative writing. You might think that sounds nice, and it is exciting to consider and put together a brand new academic program from the ground up. You get to rethink how you want to structure a program, what your goals might be, what the practical realities of implementing it might be. That’s been the fun work of the past several years — daydreaming or planning the program, depending on how close to reality you are. Even writing the initial Proposal to Plan was a lot of fun and fairly easy, since it was the big picture.

But now, even though the big picture is still on my mind, it’s a lot more work to get down to the details. I’ve been working on writing new course proposals: there will be almost 30 initially, including Special Topics, Internship, and the Thesis. It’s a wide variety, and I wouldn’t have to propose them all at once (and we likely will add some more later), but I want to show the range of courses we plan to offer, and I want to include a few ‘hooks’ to other programs. For instance, MUW has a new MA in Women’s Leadership, so I have included some courses already that focus on women writers. I’d like there to be a small concentration for the Women’s Leadership students who want to take literature as part of their degree. Our Education Masters programs may also be served by some of our literature classes. The writing classes will likely be reserved for our MFA students, but I wanted to make them open to other students who have the qualifications, so the prerequisite was permission of the director.

Each course proposal needs a rudimentary course outline and course objectives. I’m not being incredibly detailed in these (and was told this would be okay — I hope they remember that!) because I’m writing so many and I won’t teach all of these classes, but still it is both fun and very demanding to think about what could be taught in each of the areas I’m proposing.

Of course, all of this would be easier if I were proposing an MFA program where there was an existing MA in literature. But we don’t have that here, and we aren’t likely to get it unless we were to propose a Comparative Literature degree (I don’t believe there is one of those in the state, and we still have to worry about duplication of programs). Many of my course proposals include an international focus, both with that in mind and because I want our program to have a global vision both because I want our program to stand out, and I think American writers need to be less provincial.

I like thinking about the types of courses we could teach (workshops, residencies, and forms and literature classes) and the choices students might make. I like thinking about the writers who think they want to teach and the writers who want to enter the publishing business and what their needs are. And I like thinking about what I want to communicate to prospective students about our program by putting the program in place. But it does mean writing pages and pages of proposal documents and researching some of the classes I probably will never teach. Heck, I’ve had to look up some names of authors I might want to use in the classes I will teach. After writing this many course proposals, I feel lucky I can remember my own name some of the time!

I’m reminded of the wealth of great literature that’s out there, and it’s exciting to steer a course for a new program to study the things I would want to have in a program if I were a grad student today. Of course, the program will grow and change as we hire new faculty, and especially as we start teaching students and begin to assess their needs and expectations. For now, I’m suspended somewhere between the idea stages that I lived with for so long (our initial proposal didn’t get off the ground before the economy crashed in 2008, so I’ve been waiting until the time was right to try again) and the even trickier nuts and bolts that I’ll start dealing with when the proposal becomes a reality.

Published by Kendall Dunkelberg

I am a poet, translator, and professor of literature and creative writing at Mississippi University for Women, where I direct the Low-Res MFA in Creative Writing, the undergraduate concentration in creative writing, and the Eudora Welty Writers' Symposium. I have published three books of poetry, Barrier Island Suite, Time Capsules, and Landscapes and Architectures, as well as a collection of translations of the Belgian poet Paul Snoek, Hercules, Richelieu, and Nostradamus. I live in Columbus with my wife, Kim Whitehead; son, Aidan; and dog, Aleida.

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