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Penn State To Cut Top-Ranked MFA Program (Updated)

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UPDATE (May 22, 2011): William J. Cobb, the Director of the creative writing Master of Fine Arts program at Pennsylvania State University, earlier this week issued the following public statement: "In this our 25th anniversary year, I'm glad to announce that our MFA Program is very much alive and well, and will continue to receive considerable financial support, including fellowships, teaching assignments, and full tuition waivers. To put this news in context: In March of this year the College of Liberal Arts announced it was withdrawing financial support for teaching assistantships in the MFA Program, due to budget cutbacks at the state funding level. Our faculty and students deeply disagreed with this decision, and lobbied extensively to mitigate its damaging effects. After numerous administrative meetings and much discussion, we've succeeded in our cause. In fact we are not retracting but expanding, with two new degree options in the works--an integrated BA/MA creative writing degree and a combined MFA/PhD--in addition to our traditional two-year MFA. In the last two years we've also welcomed new faculty members Toni Jensen, author of the story collection From the Hilltop (U of Nebraska Press) and Elizabeth Kadetsky, author of the memoir First There Is a Mountain (Little Brown), as well as a new Writer-in-Residence series, which most recently featured Susan Orlean and George Saunders. In these difficult times in which many universities are facing budget cutbacks, ours is a triumph of persistence and support for the creative literary arts."

ORIGINAL STORY (April 6, 2011): According to an article in The Daily Collegian, Pennsylvania State University is preparing to cut a graduate program ranked in the Top 5 in the world in its field.

In an article published on April 1, the undergraduate newspaper for the 45,000-student flagship campus of Penn State revealed that the university "will no longer have the funds to admit new candidates into the [Master of Fine Arts in creative writing] program." The creative writing MFA at Penn State offers concentrations in fiction, poetry and nonfiction.

The decision comes despite the program's prominence in the field's controlling national rankings, published annually by Poets & Writers magazine, a top trade publication. For the 2010-2011 admissions cycle, the nonfiction program at Penn State was ranked in the Top 5 in the world; overall, the nonfiction program ranks in the Top 10 globally among all graduate creative writing programs in the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada and China.

Little explanation has yet been given for why the University elected to cut one of its most prestigious graduate programs.

The rankings for the fiction and poetry MFA programs at Penn State are almost as strong as for the university's nonfiction program: in the 2011 MFA rankings, published by Poets & Writers in September of 2010, the creative writing MFA program at Penn State ranked in the Top 50 overall, the Top 50 in poetry, the Top 40 in fiction, the Top 10 in selectivity, the Top 25 in funding, and the Top 40 in graduate placement. In fact, the program has improved its relative standing in the field every year rankings have been published since 2003, and is scheduled to be ranked in the Top 40 overall (at #34) in the 2012 MFA rankings forthcoming later this year.

College of the Liberal Arts Dean Susan Welch explained the decision to make deep cuts to the university's English Department, saying that the department has a smaller enrollment of undergraduate students than other departments, according to The Daily Collegian. The university's larger Psychology Department, for instance, will suffer few budget cuts, according to Welch.

The university's English Department has long been one of the crown jewels of the University. Last year, the English Literature doctoral program was ranked in the Top 15 by the National Research Council, the leading doctoral-program assessment body in the United States.

A graduate of Dartmouth College, Harvard Law School and the Iowa Writers' Workshop, Seth Abramson is the author of two collections of poetry, Northerners (Western Michigan University Press, 2011), winner of the 2010 Green Rose Prize, and The Suburban Ecstasies (Ghost Road Press, 2009). Presently a doctoral candidate in English at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, he is also the co-author of the forthcoming third edition of The Creative Writing MFA Handbook (Continuum, 2012).