Writers Speak Out Against the Closing of City University of Hong Kong’s MFA Program

May 8, 2015


City University (CityU) of Hong Kong has decided to close its low-residency MFA program. The chair of the English department announced the closure, citing financial and low-enrollment concerns. The program was started in 2010 by AWP board member Xu Xi.

The South China Morning Post reports that the “CityU told [the paper] on Friday that fresh enrolment would end because ‘it recruited fewer than 18 students in each of the last two years’ out of an annual admission quota of 30, and ‘has accumulated a large deficit over the years.’ ” The paper further reported:

In the university senate’s minutes of meeting dated March 24 and acquired by the Post, the English department proposed discontinuing the course as it had run up a total deficit of HK$1.633 million [US$211,000] since 2010, including a major loss of HK$993,000 [US$128,000] in 2012–13 incurred in part by “an unanticipated charge by the finance office for two years of venue use.”

The document also says “a small profit of HK$440,000 [US$56,700]” is anticipated for 2014–15, but that the finance office is of the view “the programme is no longer viable financially.”

Xu Xi told the Post: “In my proposal back in 2009 that CityU contracted me to prepare for an MFA programme, I recommended a target cohort of no more than 20, but the university insisted on 30 at a lower tuition rate.” According to the Post, she explained that “the fact that the fees had gone up twice since the programme’s launch in 2010—from HK$3,180 [US$410] to HK$4,030 [US$520] per credit—was also a reason it did not make the annual quota of 30.”

She reacted to the closing on her blog: “All we know is that we look at the world with a different lens from many other MFA’s because we’re not about one nation, one language, one culture, one race, one religion, one anything. Even though we write in the English language, our international tribe (students enrolled to date represent 21 nationalities who live in 17 different countries) speaks, reads, hears many Englishes.”

Another faculty member of the program, and also an AWP board member, Ira Sukrungruang, responded to the closing on Brevity magazine’s blog: “This was a program like no other, producing writing like no other. It was not only shaping literature in Asia but also adding diversity to the western cannon. . . . The program’s closure is reprehensible. Short-sighted. Unwarranted. Just plain stupid.”

Students and alumni of the program have formed a Facebook group to facilitate their protest, and their online petition can be found on their blog.

Fifty-eight writers, including Pulitzer Prize winners Rae Armantrout, Robert Olen Butler, and Junot Díaz, have signed a letter asking the university to reverse its decision.

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