UNCW loses Creative Writing minor, officials blame budget cuts
Published: Tuesday, May 8, 2012
Updated: Monday, July 30, 2012 17:07
How much is too much to pay for college? One student almost paid $30,000 to take a single class.
Students at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington haven’t protested much, beyond Facebook statuses and Tweets, about their raise in tuition and fees handed down by the UNC system this year. A couple hundred dollars more in loans, they thought. A few more payments when I graduate. An extra week working the night shift at the local laundromat, or fast food stop, or grocery store.
For Megan Kiger, a graduating senior who transferred to the creative writing program (CRW) at UNCW two years ago, it would have meant much more. An entire semester more.
Last spring, Kiger watched the classes she needed to graduate start to slip away from her on Seanet, the website that students use to register for classes. She waited days for her registration to begin, for her time slot to open up on the last day, Thursday, hoping she wouldn’t be too late. The class she needed, advanced fiction, was filling up fast.
“If I hadn’t gotten into the advanced class in the fall, I’d be here an extra semester,” said Kiger, “I watched the whole time. It was nerve-racking.”
Kiger’s decision to come to UNCW for its CRW program to finish her undergraduate degree was a big one. She’d gone to community college in New Jersey, her home state, for two years. She was on full scholarship there, through a program called the New Jersey Stars, and if she chose to go to a Jersey state school, the rest of her education would be free, too, based on her high grade point average.
Instead, she came here and paid out-of-state tuition, which totaled around $26,000 each of her two years at UNCW. Although she’ll get her diploma in May, she’ll graduate without the certificate in editing and publishing that she took several other classes for. She had one more class to take in the sequence required for the certificate. By the time she tried to register, it was full.
“It’s a little disappointing to me,” said Kiger. Her voice broke over the phone. There was a beat of silence.
“I took out the money. I came all the way down here for this program that I heard so much about, and there aren’t enough teachers, not enough classes, not enough open rooms,” she said.
The CRW program hasn’t hired a permanent staffer in five years, according to Mark Cox, a professor who served on the committee that brought up the elimination of the minor. The department depends on students of its highly ranked graduate program to assist in lecturing.
“We’re simply stretched,” said Cox, “We’re down many faculty members and the freshman class has been growing.”
The number of students in the program has been increasing steadily since it began in 2001. The faculty has become a team of Tetris players, trying to fit students into the little space they have, waiting for the bottom row to graduate. But students were taking longer than four years, due to a lack of classroom space and professors to add more classes to a growing population of creative writing students. That bottom row isn’t disappearing, and there isn’t any room for new “blocks.”
So the department is eliminating the minor and changing the requirements of the major to make the program more selective.
Cutting the minor is the first official manifestation at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington of the budget cuts that schools across the UNC system, and country, are experiencing. But the administrators of the Bachelor of Fine Arts program, including Philip Gerard, chair of the department, felt constricted long before, when the economy’s stream of education funding slowed to a drip.
“It doesn’t happen all at once. Our budget has been cut every year,” said Philip Gerard, chair of the department.
Tim Bass, coordinator for the BFA in creative writing, has an office in Kenan Hall. It’s in this room that he advises each major individually. His glasses are off, he’s got a five o’clock shadow and there’s an open soda can on the desk. Leaning back in his green chair, his gray eyes lift to the ceiling and he places the back of his fist on his forehead, undoubtedly searching for the words to explain why he’s cutting the program.
“The major has gotten so popular, we can no longer handle the minors efficiently,” Bass said. “We’ve reached a point of saturation.”
Every seat is filled in required classes, which often have only a few sections available per semester. Advanced fiction, a class that all fiction track majors must get through for their degree, only has one section offered per semester. There isn’t a large enough faculty to teach any more sections. In the fall, that section is only open to 18 students. This spring, three seniors this year couldn’t get into the classes they needed to graduate on time, according to Bass, who had to manipulate their class schedule and provide course substitutions for them. Minors were taking seats in classes that seniors needed.
“If minors get in there, majors don’t,” said Bass. “Everything is connected. At some point they end up jeopardizing the graduation timetable of the majors.” The exact number of majors and minors changes daily since the online system for declaring reopened last week. Bass says the department is operating at capacity.