CityU shock axe of MFA; Speculation rife of political motives

CityU axes MFA programme.
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CityU ambushed its faculty members and students involved in MFA Creative Writing course on April 27th by announcing the closure of the programme.

Speculation is rife that the decision made to close the programme was due to the proliferation of publication of sensitive, pro-democracy materials about the Umbrella Movement last fall. Ms Xu Xi (許素细) , MFA Programme Leader and driver was recently published in The Iowa Review with an essay entitled, Why I Stopped Being Chinese, but aside from a couple of sympathetic Facebook posts, she was not a noted Occupy supporter.

Ms Xu Xi dismissed speculation about political motivators  – though she was not sure about the ‘actual’ reason for the closure. Nor had she received any further explanation from the Department. “The transparency is a bit of a problem…and no consultation with the faculty and the students,” she says.

The only reason given for the closure by the acting chair of the Department of English Professor Hon S Chan was that “the programme has only been able to enroll a small number of students every year.” The current size of the program is running at around 40 students each year, a number that is within the parameters proposed by Ms Xu when the university established the program in 2010. Furthermore, the program is financially self-sustaining as of this year. People are curious as to whether or not CityU has placed too high a profitability target, especially when the programme has seen progress financially.


“The transparency is a bit of a problem…and no consultation with the faculty and the students,” she says.


Speaking to Harbour Times, Ms Xu proudly notes that the programme is the first of its kind outside the United States, which is why it has drawn students from across Asia and Europe to come to study. It offers a “low residency” to students, meaning while the students are assigned to their respective mentors and submit papers to mentors online from time to time, they will come to Hong Kong each summer (and some long weekends in spring and autumn) to attend classes. This course design enables individual-life long learning and minimal disruption to the students who have a full-time work life abroad.

Ms Xu is disappointed by the closure of the programme, confident it was delivering a tremendous value. Nicholas Wong, a native Hong Konger and a graduate of the programme, has his poetry published by New York Press and was chosen recently by the National Broadcasting Company in the United States as one of the young poets in Asia to watch. Another graduate of the programme is an insurance executive based in Mumbai. He won the Commonwealth Short Story Prize and his novel will soon be published by ROLI Press, the publisher behind the celebrated Man Booker prize winner, Arundhati Roy.


Back to New York?

On September 25th, on the verge of Occupy, Ms Xu participated in RTHK’s Backchat, a daily political talk news show, discussing the topic “Is it time to leave Hong Kong?”, speaking from New York, her ‘other home’. Ms Xu, an American citizen, did state support for the symbolism of Occupy Central – but that was days before its premature birth, the mild 2 holiday sit in version. She left Hong Kong in 1998 and commutes between Hong Kong, her birthplace, and New York.  She explained that she ‘never wanted to stay in Hong Kong, but couldn’t help coming back because of her mother…”

Whether the programme was closed due to one person’s’ politics, a programme’s student bodies’ political leanings or the small size of the programme (although 40 students in a graduate programme isn’t unusual), a lack of transparency will ensure speculation is rife.

The University was slow to respond to requests for information, and refused other publications, further suggesting the decision was undertaken in some haste and perhaps ill-coordinated with public relations professionals who should have anticipated media interest.