Creative Metanonfiction,  Letters,  MFA

Mistakes Were Probably Made

IMG_0759As of this writing, 67 internationally recognized authors from around the world have petitioned to City University of Hong Kong to re-open its MFA Creative Writing Programme, the first of its kind in Asia, unique for its multicultural faculty and student body.


Although there is some circumstantial evidence that the CityU of HK MFA closure is politically motivated, I am beginning to believe the closure is primarily due to ill-informed decision making.  However, due to the utter lack of transparency in this matter, many possibilities currently co-exist.  It’s a Schrodinger’s Cat kind of thing.


Professor Hon S. Chan, an alumnus of the Maxwell School of Public Policy at Syracuse University, has been the acting head of the English Department since December, 2014.  He is the one responsible for proposing and pushing through legislation to close the program in April.  But he probably had no idea what he was doing.  After all, how could a specialist in Mainland China bureaucracy know the true value of a unique creative writing program noted for its international diversity and focus on Asia?


All Chan saw were numbers indicating that the five year old program was by some–but not all–accounting measures a net financial loss.  He probably considered it his duty to amputate and cauterize the offending limb.  Apparently, it never occurred to him that said limb should be taken to the doctor.  People the world over have been using the same kind of silly mercantilist logic since the Boston Tea Party and the First Opium War.  Fucking godawful behavior, when you think about it.  And yet the fact that the program is projected to have a small profit (approx. 400,000 HKD) in the 2014-2015 academic year defies his economic rationale. Given more time, the MFA program would eventually pay for itself, perhaps even turning a small financial profit, which is especially important for some folks who believe universities should be lucrative enterprises.


Since Professor Chan specializes in Public Administration, he probably would have no idea what it means when a Pulitzer Prize winner such as Junot Diaz says: “That’s how impressed I was with the program, with its mission, its students, staff and faculty: I was ready to relocate to Hong Kong for the opportunity to be a part of their vision. I’ve never been to an MFA program anywhere that tempted me with its excellence the way CityU did.” It stands to reason that Professor Chan just rode his little desk into unfamiliar territory.


This is akin to having a humanities professor chair a theoretical physics department—but maybe even this would be a poor analogy, because many artists and scientists would agree that there is an overlap between their respective disciplines, an overlap which has difficult to quantify force-multiplying effects.  Chan probably doesn’t even know that last summer before he assumed his post as acting head of the English Department, CityU MFA students took a writing course on the interface between biotechnology, post-humanism, and literature.  And he is probably clueless—as of this writing—that this summer, novelist Jess Row will be teaching a writing workshop inspired by the latest theories in quantum and astrophysics.


If the closure is politically motivated then there is really nothing we can do.  As a teacher and writer living in Chengdu, China, I believe that foreign guests such as myself should be cognizant of, but not actively participating in an internal issue.  On the other hand, it would be tragic if one of China’s burgeoning MFA creative writing programs dies young due to bureaucratic myopia.


There is much more at stake here than the life or death of this particular MFA program.  As China and the rest of Asia rises, programs such as the one at City University of Hong Kong should not only be nurtured, but perhaps even financially endowed to shield them from future bureaucratic malfeasance.