Posts Tagged ‘Mississippi University for Women’

To GRE or Not to GRE

Mississippi University for Women, where I direct the creative writing program, was recently approved to offer a low-residency MFA in creative writing. As part of the approval process, I had to bring the proposal to our graduate council. Most of our programs require the GRE with the application, so when there was some initial resistance to doing without that score for creative writing, I said okay, let’s revisit that issue later (after the program was approved). That time appears to be now. We’re about to begin accepting applications, and I’m learning there are other programs that might want to do without the GRE requirement or make it optional. Of course, there will be some programs who want to require it, either because they believe it is a good predictor of success in their fields or because they want an additional measure to use in making a decision. I respect that, but I also have some issues with GRE. First, the test is expensive. That’s fine, if you’re planning to enter a field where the earning potential is secure. For a writing degree, it’s unclear how much the investment will pay out in added income (though it might pay off in less income in a more enjoyable profession for some of us!). If students are applying to a number of schools, then the cost of the test is spread out to more applications, though after the initial four schools (which must be named when you take the test), additional reports cost extra. So taking the GRE is a potential roadblock for some applicants, many of whom may not have the extra cash to cover the cost of the test and reporting to several schools, so they may either choose programs without the requirement or choose not to apply to graduate school in the first place. The test is expensive and intimidating, so why bother. This is especially true for low-income applicants, women and minorities, who also are less likely to do well on the test. If the test were a good predictor of success in the graduate school (for creative writing), then it might be justified. But it isn’t. The GRE doesn’t test for the skills our students need. The closest thing on the test that might apply would be the analytical writing section and the verbal reasoning section, but even these seem to have little to do with creativity. They might test student’s writing abilities, but I can judge that better from the writing sample and the student’s letter of intent. I can judge from letters of recommendation and transcripts whether an applicant has the potential to succeed in the program. There is no minimum required score for the GRE in our programs, so essentially we’re saying you have to pay ETS a fee to take a test, spend half a day taking a test, and we might not (probably won’t) care what score you make! Now for the programs it who do care, it might make sense to require this, but for our program it does not. I asked colleagues on the Creative Writing Pedagogy group (on Facebook) to see if I was missing something. The overwhelming consensus so far is that there’s no reason to use the test for creative writing, and that it’s dubious for other areas as well. The main issue is that it acts as a gateway, keeping women and minority groups out. Since these are audiences our program especially wants to target (we are Mississippi University for Women, after all), it would see counter-intuitive to put roadblocks in their way. I’ve heard rumblings from other areas that there’s discontent with the GRE, and the graduate programs are reevaluating our admissions process and policies, so now is an opportune moment to push for the removal of this requirement, which I’ve asked to be put on our agenda for next week. Wish me luck! And if anyone’s curious about how it goes, you can watch our admissions process on our website here. I will update it as soon as possible, if I get approval to do without the GRE.

Just say No (to merger)

First a bit of history…. a little over 15 years ago in June, when I was a relatively young grad student who had just defended his dissertation and was out on a job interview, I awoke to the public radio station reporting news of a planned merger for the school where I was about to interview. This was a little unsettling, to say the least. The school was MUW, where I’ve been teaching ever since.

At my interview with the division head (we had 8 divisions then, instead of 4 colleges), I timidly asked about the news. “Oh, that will never happen,” Ginger Hitt reassured me. And she was right. Then, as now, the alums of Mississippi University for Women went to bat for their alma mater. Then, as now, they wrote letters, made phone calls, made personal visits, and made it clear that the first state supported university for women should not be closed or merged.

Today we face the same threat, this time ostensibly due to the current budget crisis, though there is little evidence that merging MUW (and merging Alcorn, Valley, and Jackson State) will have much of an effect on the budget. When there are financial or other difficulties, someone always seems to call for closing the traditionally African American universities and the women’s university. It just so happens that we are also the smallest universities in the state. Never mind that many students are better served in a small, teaching university than in a large research university. Some will always believe that bigger is better, but for many students who need a more personal education, it is not. Our successes can be witnessed by the passion and political savvy of our many alums, who have already begun to mobilize in our support.

Fifteen years ago, I wouldn’t have guessed I would still be here and would be facing the same threats again. But I have grown to love the W and to respect what it stands for. I have worked hard over those years to be a part of what makes this university great, and I have seen the tireless efforts of many others. I would hate to see that legacy lost if MUW were merged with Mississippi State, as Governor Barbour proposed in his budget today. We would lose our identity and many of our core faculty, if that happens. Our students would lose the opportunity to learn in the environment that best fits them (if it didn’t, they would have chosen one of the larger schools). I have heard from many of my students and from many alums who have told why MUW was the right place for them at that point in their lives.

That is why they support us — because we offer an educational opportunity that can not be matched or duplicated, and it has made a difference in their lives. They have already organized two meetings, on in Jackson yesterday and one in Columbus next Sunday. My hat is off to the long blue line!

A Look Behind the Curtain

Or why I haven’t written much this week!

One of my many hats is Director of the Eudora Welty Writers’ Symposium at Mississippi University for Women, an annual event at which a dozen or so authors appear and read from their work. For the audience, everything seems to go seamlessly–I hope! MUW faculty give introductions, authors read and answer questions, students and faculty sell books: it’s a successful event in its 21st season. What the audience doesn’t see is what goes on before and after a cultural event like this, with which as director, I’ve become intimately familiar, making me feel a bit like the Wizard of Oz at times.

This week, I was busily teaching classes, updating the Welty Symposium website, working on the schedule and press release, and ordering the first books. Then a little crisis hit. Someone decided we could no longer sell books the way we had in the past, due to sales tax regulations. Several phone calls later, and I was in the process of rearranging our book account so that so that the right side of the university would be in charge of sales. It will still be me, but the money goes through a more appropriate fund. This means different rules for purchasing, one of which is that I can’t pay in advance for books to sell, which is what I needed to do that caused me to be alerted to the new rules! Several more emails and calls later, and I am close to resolving the issue for this order, buying myself time to figure out the next.

That’s just one fairly big fire that needs to be be put out before October 22 — there will be others. One person asked if we make much money on books, suggesting we could just stop selling them. I assured her that we make enough, but that even if we didn’t, selling books at an author’s event is part of the atmosphere, brings in a bigger crowd, and promotes reading. As long as we don’t lose money, we’ll keep selling books somehow!

The more usual crises involve finding authors’ photos, reviews, and bios; getting everyone to turn in their forms; helping authors with travel arrangements; making time for writing the press release, creating a flyer (I’m going to try doing it in color this year), working up the program, making sure we have all the rooms, and chairs, and food, and whatever else I’m blanking out on right now! Those things and finding time to be a professor, father, and writer of poetry and this blog.

I hope it doesn’t sound like I’m whining or complaining. Really, I’m not! I did think, though, since it’s what has been on my mind most of the week, it would be the best thing to write about. There are many aspects of the business side of literature worth exploring. It’s not always glamorous or even fun every minute, but I do get to meet a dozen authors every year and talk with a lot of publishers, and it’s worth all the headaches and crises to make that one weekend a magical event.