The Department of English at City University of Hong Kong announced earlier this week that it plans to close its low-residency MFA creative writing program. Established five years ago by Hong Kong-based novelist Xu Xi, the two-year program is designed to provide the best education possible for aspiring creative writers, with a special focus on Asian writing in English.
In protest, 25 distinguished authors from around the world, including Shawn Wong, Marilyn Chin, Luis Francia, Ravi Shankar, Tina Chang, Nami Mun, Chang-rae Lee, and Ira Sukrungruang have signed a letter to academic administrators protesting the university’s decision.
The acting chair of the Department of English announced the elimination of the program on Monday, citing the niche quality of the program and small enrollment numbers. However, the current size of the program (approximately 40 students) is well within the plan originally proposed when the university established the program in 2010. As a self-funded offering, the program has been financially self-sustaining as of 2015.
According to Xu Xi, the decision was made in February. The acting chair, Hon Chan, who comes out of a public policy and administration background, rushed to implement the closure through the Faculty Senate in March. “It was absurdly abrupt,” says Xu Xi. “I, as the Program Leader, was not involved in any of the representations made to the various committees that were reviewing our Masters program; once the Acting Head came on board, he handled all that himself.”
MFA alumni Nicholas Wong comments, “We are still pondering other possible factors of the closure.” Many members of the creative community reflected upon the Umbrella Movement in their writing. “We don’t know if it is ultimately about our being vocal about the movement. A good number of faculty members and alumni have published [work] that, in one way or other, deals with the movement thematically.”
Xu Xi says the university is obliged to fulfill the program as promised until current students complete their degree—the majority of students will finish the program by June 2016. “While the individualized distance mentoring will be less problematic, the ability to hold a week-long residency beyond this summer becomes increasingly difficult if you only have, say six to 10 students left,” she says. Alumni have taken to social media to express their anger and disappointment.
Despite constant pressures from academic administration and the general sense that “they just don’t understand the pedagogical model because it doesn’t fit what they know,” Xu Xi remains passionate about the international writing community that she helped to create at City University.
“Regardless of what happens now with all the students and faculty protesting, I don’t regret the work to keep this program going for as long as it did because of the wonderful international writer community it’s fostered here in Asia,” Xu Xi says. “That is a moveable feast, should the university refuse to reinstate the program. I have a feeling I will reincarnate it somehow.”