Sep 26th, 2018, 04:28 AM

What it Means to Hire AUP's Newest Mentor

By Leonardo Tow
Image Credit: StockSnap/Pixabay
What is in store for the creative writing major after Professor Jeffrey Greene's retirement?

At the end of the spring 2018 semester, AUP said goodbye to Jeffrey Greene, a professor of creative writing and one of the developers of the creative writing major. Many of his former students who remained within the major were left wondering who would step in to fill this pivotal role of both professor and mentor.

The creative writing major is one of the newest majors at AUP, having been developed less than five years ago by Professor Greene and Professor Sian Dafydd along with the chair of the department of Comparative Literature and English, Professor Geoffrey Gilbert. This means that the major is far from polished as much of the structure sprang from the Comparative Literature major with some bare bones creative writing courses included.

Over the 2018-2019 school year, a committee will be hiring someone to replace Professor Greene who will hopefully bring new ideas to the major and the department as a whole. Professor Gilbert said “Within the hiring process, the candidates are going to be meeting with students. Around the end of the year [2018 calendar year], when we are looking through the possible candidates, will be a great time to hear from students about what they are looking for out of this new hire.”

Gilbert continued, “Because the creative writing major is so new, I think it’s a bad idea to imagine ‘this is what the department should look like in five years time’, especially when we are about to hire someone new. We are taking steps to grow both the department and the major, but it’s going to happen slowly.” In the last two years alone, Professors Amanda Dennis and Jacob Bromberg have joined the creative writing faculty. Also, the Writer in Residence program, run in conjunction with Kent University, has made it off the ground with writer and translator Daniel Hahn taking the position last year. This was something Professor Greene was very excited about, according to an interview conducted for his professor spotlight on the AUP creative writing page. He wanted to see translation gain greater importance within the major. Through courses such as Literary Translation and Creative Writing, and Production, Creation, Translation, Publication, and the Writer in Residence program, this goal seems to be coming to fruition.

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Image Credit: The American University of Paris/Flickr

Through interviewing students in the creative writing and comparative literature majors certain common concerns were revealed. Ellis Carter and Jacob Sirota, both sophomores going into their junior year, and Lauren Domagas, a senior majoring in creative writing, all commented on a lack of diversity in the courses offered to creative writing students. Mr. Carter, a comparative literature student and head of the creative writing club at AUP and Mr. Sirota, majoring in philosophy, politics, and economics and minoring in creative writing, both noted that their majors had far more course diversity.

In speaking with Professor Gilbert about this issue, he said that “at the moment, we feel the structure of the major is okay, but the content is variable. The model we used when setting up the creative writing major, just three years ago, was a few basic courses and then quite a large degree of independent work, such as the advanced and senior projects. This is the way in which students can explore their unique interests.” He said that “we are always going through a process of analysis and change and this year we are doing a self-study as a department to identify any areas where things can be improved.”

When asked what the reason for the lack of diversity in courses might be, both Domagas and Carter said the creative writing major still has very few professors and thus has relatively limited diversity in its knowledge base, even though individual professors are very knowledgeable.

Of course, there is also a budget that Professor Gilbert has to keep in mind as the chair of the department. He said, “Absolutely, we would like to add more courses, but that is one of the difficulties at such a small university. When designing the major we felt that the niches were so small that if we were to have niche courses there wouldn’t be enough students to sustain them. We do hope that the new hire will be able to bring something new into the major.”

When speaking with students, it became clear that some felt their concerns were not being heard. Mr. Carter and Mr. Sirota both said they would be interested in a forum in which the comparative literature and creative writing students could voice their concerns to the department faculty.

In speaking with Professor Gilbert about this, he said “there is already a structure in place for this to happen through the student representative in the department whose job it is to relay the concerns of the students to the faculty. Additionally, we did have a forum a year or two ago, but if students are interested I believe the department would be open to doing them more often.” Gilbert suggests that students should begin the organization of such an event and maintain open communication with both faculty and the student representative.

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Image Credit: Tony Hall/Flickr

During a discussion with Mr. Carter, he said, “I came into college sure that I wanted to be a creative writing student, but then found out that you have to complete a year of ASM [AUP student media] courses. I tried taking one of these but quickly dropped out. At the time, this experience drove me away from the creative writing major.”

The next day, Professor Gilbert corrected this misunderstanding, saying “ASM courses are not required for the creative writing major.” When he heard that other students had also been working under this assumption, he discovered that a mistake had been made in the major requirements on the creative writing page clarifying that eight credits are required under the section Writing and Its Cultures, which includes the courses Production, Creation, Translation, Publication, Contemporary World Literature, internship possibilities, and the ASM practicums. 

Professor Gilbert confirmed that only four credits are required for this section of the major, meaning a student could take two ASM practicums or simply take one of the comparative literature courses listed above. This error has since been corrected on the website. 

While the major is still growing and changing, the question on several students' minds is whether there will be someone to work with them one-on-one in the creative writing major. Ms. Domagas, currently working on her senior project for creative writing said, “There are very few professors to work with and many are so busy they have little time to work with students directly.” She also said that she has not personally experienced a creative writing mentor at AUP. Commenting on the need for a mentor, she said, “I think that experience is especially important for a creative writing student.”

In speaking with Professor Gilbert about this, the Peacock asked if the committee hiring the new member of the creative writing team will be looking for a professor with that mentoring capability. Professor Gilbert had this to say, “I don’t think anyone works well at AUP who doesn’t have at least a little bit of that sense that their job involves being a mentor to students. While the new hire won’t do that in the same way that Jeff Greene did, it is absolutely something we will be looking for.” He asked that the Peacock get the message to students that “we want students to be really involved in this hiring process because I think at this point there is nothing more important for the major and the department than this new hire.”