A professor on the outs at Columbia decides to out the whole process of cloning that is the MFA pyramid scheme. There are whole parts of this I can’t follow, which makes me think it was written in anger. How fun and sad!
There is no point in being coy. Despite the presence of a small minority of talented and committed faculty members and an equally small core of serious, gifted students, what prevails at the writing division in the School of the Arts, and to some extent at the School of the Arts as a whole, is an institutionalized and self-perpetuating culture of mediocrity so out of step with the general climate of excellence for which Columbia is rightly known that most would be shocked to be apprised of the details. A senior colleague of mine recently put it quite neatly: “Leaderless, rudderless, standardless. The worst among us sense the vacuum and rush to fill it with their own kind. So sad. How I wish I could believe there will be some surcease, some righting of the ship in the foreseeable [future]. Alas, I fear it will not be so.” I would like to believe otherwise.
Allow me to elaborate. A short list of documentable facts—I’ll begin with the smaller issues and proceed to the larger ones—would include master’s theses that are routinely passed despite the fact that the level of writing exhibited in them is remedial at best and virtually illiterate at worst, tenure-track hires of close personal friends of the chair who have, quite literally, not a single publication credit to their names and who are hired over candidates with two and three books—resulting in a situation in which students often have more experience and more publications than their instructors, and an institutional culture in which those who have done nothing for 10 or 15 years hire others like themselves in order to make their own lack of accomplishment less visible and, for the same reason, discriminate against those who are active in their fields.
Thoughts, people? I know you have them. (From Backwards City)