New MFA pending approval later this year

Lashana Harney

A new graduate program awaits final approval before it can start accepting applications for the fall.

The Board of Regents approved a Master of Fine Arts degree type in the creative writing program on Friday. 

Robert Hale, English department head,  said the program still has not been fully approved.

“We still have two hurdles to overcome before this becomes real,” Hale said. “We’re in the final stages of being approved by the (Council on) Postsecondary Education for Kentucky and we have to be approved by SACS, the accrediting body.”

Hale said the department should know about the approval from CPE in February and the approval from SACS in March. 

“We’re hoping that we know everything by the end of March, at the very latest, but accrediting groups can take longer than you want,” he said.

David Bell, associate professor of English, said the English department worked hard all year to get the program ready for the approval process.

“Everybody went for it,” said Bell. 

If approved, the two-year residential program will begin in the upcoming fall semester.

Tom Hunley, associate professor of English, said he feels relieved now that the process is coming to an end and is confident the program will be approved.

“It’s exciting that we are finally getting to the point where it’s being administratively approved,” said Hunley. “It’s exciting to start recruiting new students and to get to know new faculty.”

During the course of the program, students will complete 48 credit hours of graduate course work and will complete internships. Students prepare to become proficient writers of novels, short fiction, literary nonfiction, poetry and scripts. 

“The scriptwriting piece that we’ve got is pretty unusual for a MFA program,” Hale said. “We see that as a way to really work with our really growing film major.” 

Hale said students must also have a secondary emphasis in addition to their main track of study. Secondary emphases can be in literature, composition and rhetoric or teaching English as a second language.

“That is one of the things that makes our program pretty unique,” Hale said. “…We really want to make sure that when students graduate, they have options for what they’re going to do.”

Hunley said another unique factor to WKU’s proposed program is the creative writing pedagogy. Students will learn how to teach creative writing and will gain experience through teaching composition classes.

Bell said some students pursue the MFA for artistic reasons. Instead of writing part-time, students can attend graduate school where writing is the main focus. Students are also prepared to work in copywriting, publishing or advertising. 

“We are focusing on the professional side, the career side of things, as much as the artistic side of things,” he said.

If approved, the university is accepting six applicants for the fall of 2015. Hale said the university will provide the selected applicants with tuition waivers and stipends.

Hunley said the program may not be as competitive at first due to the program’s initial start up. 

“We will draw more students down the road,” Hunley said. “In the future, it will be very competitive.”

Hunley said students will submit writing samples, a statement of purpose and their grades. However, he said writing samples will be the most important factor.

“We’re learning as we go and inventing the wheel,” Hunley said. “We’re looking for a lot of promise in the writing.”

Hale said most of the program is funded internally within the English department and isn’t taking away from any of the other programs in the department. 

Bell said even before he started teaching at WKU seven years ago, the English department desired to create the MFA program.  

“It never quite got off the ground for a variety of reasons,” he said. 

However, over the past two years Gordon Emslie, provost and vice president for Academic Affairs, helped the English department get the program ready for the approval process, Bell said.

Bell said the demand for Creative Writing MFA programs has picked up over the past 30 years, and he believes several students will apply to WKU’s program, if the program is completely approved.

“It’s a new phenomenon,” he said. “…Demand is not going to be an issue for this program.”

Bell said this program could boost WKU’s reputation. 

“It’s going to raise the profile of the university, the Potter’s College and the English department,” he said. “…This is the kind of thing that puts us on the map.”