Poets & Writers

The End of an MFA

FRIDAY night’s reception for our low-residency MFA program seemed destined, now, to feel like a wake. But I still wanted to be there. So I boarded my flight from Washington, D.C., to San Antonio, Texas, on the Tuesday morning before the Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) conference in early March, not knowing that within the next twenty-four hours numerous institutions and presses would withdraw from participating due to the spread of COVID-19. By the time I got off the plane, the University of Tampa had announced it was not sending anyone. I was the only faculty member who flew to Texas.

With so many other empty tables on the book fair floor, our booth’s absence was not noticed. AWP still listed us as a “Major Sponsor & Benefactor” on the tote bag I’d picked up at registration. But those of us who had received the official e-mail in late February—or learned secondhand, through social media—carried the grief that the University of Tampa had decided to close its low-residency MFA program in creative writing, which had graduated more than 180 writers since the first class met in 2012.

Over the next few days I spotted several passing alumni in the halls of the convention center as we muddled through a disjointed, incomplete conference. While at the San Antonio Museum of Art, I ran into one of our current students, a fourth-termer poised to complete her thesis. I bought her a cider at a nearby bar, and we sat on the swing seats overlooking the River Walk. She was saddened but not shocked; during January’s residency our incoming class had consisted of one student.

We think of a literature department as being so central to a university’s mission—and any liberal arts curriculum—that it would be protected even in the worst of times. But consider what happens when the low-residency master of fine arts program is native not

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