The work of activity demons like Anne Waldman, Lisa Birman, and the late Allen Ginsberg have provided an inspirational model for poetry as a way of living and an important element of spiritual practice. Thanks to Bill Brown and Akilah Oliver for their efforts as these events have come to light. The students, faculty, and staff have my complete support. Let me know if there is anything I can do.
MFA Writing and Poetics
The Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics
DEAR FRIENDS: PLEASE READ THIS STATEMENT FROM STUDENTS AT THE JACK KEROUAC SCHOOL OF DISEMBODIED POETICS
Dear Beloved Community,
In the last year, students have watched the legacy of Naropa deteriorate. As of June 15, twenty-three beloved staff, who have devoted several years to Naropa University, were laid off. Included in these layoffs were administrative directors for each department as well as the sole diversity coordinator at the University.
The Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics fears for the heart and soul of our beloved institution. The school was founded in 1974 by Allen Ginsberg, Anne Waldman, and Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche. Its mission as a private, non-sectarian liberal arts college is inspired by a unique heritage which honors contemplative thought, critical and creative practice and freedom, and academic integrity. Naropa is more than a school; it is a community that has always been a place of honesty and visionary leadership. Unfortunately, we, the current students of the Jack Kerouac School, fear the current administration may not be aligned with the core values of Naropa.
Naropa is in dire straits. As a result of the recent review of the University by the accreditation board, we are now required to fulfill the following directives within the next two years:
First, the entire school is going through a budget reduction and academic reorganization. A committee called the Faculty Executive Working Group (FEWG) has been formed for the purpose of creating plans to restructure the University in order to accommodate the budget cuts. The five model plan, which would likely be the least compromising for the Jack Kerouac School and the Writing and Poetics Department, would incorporate The Jack Kerouac School as part of the Writing and Poetics Department. The four model plan would dissolve the Writing and Poetics Department into an overarching creative arts program. This would mean that the Jack Kerouac School would no longer have its own budget and as a result would be subject to complete control by a “general” dean of the entire arts department.
Students have not being informed of the above changes or consulted as to what would best serve the student body and sustain the vibrant legacy of Naropa University. We have the right to transparency. We have the right to be involved. Why is Naropa leaving us in the dark? Without answers from the University, we are left with rumors and questions. Those who do not know what truly makes Naropa the place we love are flagrantly dismissing and excluding us from the information and decision-making processes.
Thus, We Who Love Naropa demand the following:
1) That the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics retains all ideals and values that the student body wishes to preserve, many of which appear on the official website.
“Our programs emphasize traditional and experimental approaches to creative writing in Poetry, Prose and Translation within a variety of genres. Literature courses and the thesis requirement of a final manuscript also emphasize the development of critical writing.
All classes are taught by active, published writers, giving a practitioner's insight into literary art. Our curriculum includes opportunities for students to learn how to teach their craft, exercise performance skills, and develop as practicing writers in the world.
The Kerouac School educates students as skilled practitioners of the literary arts. Its objectives include embracing a disciplined practice of writing, and cultivating a historical and cultural awareness of literary studies.
The Kerouac School is distinct among academic writing programs because of the lively and diverse community of writers who trace their genesis and inspiration from a wide range of aesthetic and social movements, including postmodernism, Buddhist and contemplative teachings, the l-a-n-g-u-a-g-e school of poetry, the New York schools of poetry, the Black Mountain school of poetry, the Berkeley and San Francisco Renaissance, the Black Arts movement, the Beat movement, Surrealism, Dada and the Harlem Renaissance. One tradition that is emphasized is the Outrider lineage—a heritage of counter-poetics operating outside the academic mainstream.”
If budget constraints require a consolidation of the Writing and Poetics department and the Jack Kerouac School, the legacy and spirit of the Jack Kerouac School (which was an important part of the Foundation of Naropa University) must be retained without changes.
2) Increased transparency of school finances, including but not limited to the following documents:
a) Budgetary plans for recent, past, and future goals.
b) The FEWG Faculty Committee Report detailing what changes would be the least drastic alternatives.
3) Access to all ideological restructuring plans. (For instance, are Stuart Lord, Naropa President, and all other administrators aligned with the mission and spiritual values of Naropa?)
4) A voice in all decisions surrounding the restructuring process.
5) That the Diversity Advocate position to be reinstated.
6) Increased student participation in the University’s operation, including but not limited to the presence of a student-run committee at all faculty and administrative meetings pertaining to any major departmental, university, administrative, faculty, financial and academic decisions. Included in this demand is the formation of a Student Finance Board.
As we descend into a realm of Transformation, from language to social and environmental structures, Naropa has been iconic in the metamorphosis of some of the most brilliant and cultivating minds in academic history. The Jack Kerouac School has molded and trained many successful writers in a close-knit community retaining a love for language and the written word. We owe this school our support and love and it is our duty to see it stand, strong and stoic, for our school’s future. We refuse to continue being pushed to the sidelines, forced to watch this deterioration unfold.
Our Voices will be heard on Friday!
Message from Anne Waldman and Lisa Birman
Dear Community & Friends of the Jack Kerouac School:
Lisa Birman and I are writing to you from the Summer Writing Program Office. We know that the Naropa environment has suffered because of the recent downsizing of Naropa staff at large. 23 staff members, though no one from Summer Writing Program or Writing & Poetics, were laid off in June. The community has suffered tremendously as these individuals were part of our world and community. We all have questions and concerns. Our hearts and support go out to those individuals.
However, there are some clearer answers now, and we are more than willing to address your grievances as much as we can. Students are gathering these days to address and protest their concerns, which center on issues of transparency, student involvement in university-wide decisions, diversity issues, and the well being of the campus and all who are engaged here. We are all going through this process together and we support this deep engagement on the part of the students. We acknowledge the financial sacrifice and contributions our students make to this environment. They have prepared a respectful statement of concerns. We are urging them to be accurate and to check facts and details.
We know that the Higher Learning Commission (which grants accreditation) in a visit to the University has made strong critiques and recommendations concerning the way Naropa works with its budget. The situation as it has been is not sustainable for a school this size. A group of university-wide faculty (FEWG) has been working to make proposals concerning a re-structuring of the school that would not go into effect most likely until the fall of 2012. One of the proposed models is that the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics would hold all its wings together (MFA, Low-residency MFA, BA, Summer Writing Program and Writing Center, Print Shop). We think that is likely. We have been told in a meeting with the Office of Academic Affairs yesterday (July 1) that the Summer Writing Program 2011 will retain its current structure, although there will be some budget cuts.
There also appears to be some misunderstandings about the current structure of the Kerouac School. In its current incarnation, The Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics consists of two departments: The Department of Writing and Poetics (which houses the MFA in W&P, the Low-Residency MFA in Creative Writing, and the BA in Writing and Literature) and the Department of the Summer Writing Program. The Kerouac School also has various other responsibilities and interests, such as the Kavyayantra Printshop (primarily under the purview of W&P), and the Audio Archive (the content of which is primarily SWP events and classes). Under the proposed new structure, both W&P would stay under the umbrella of the Kerouac School, possibly joined by the Naropa Writing Center.
One of the problems, as we see it, has been a silence around the layoffs, although there have been some “healing circles” and meditation sessions. It seems there are legal issues of confidentiality. And we are trying to understand those implications ourselves. The uncertainly of Naropa’s future has also been a huge issue, we are both feeling more confident now as we ourselves seek answers from the NU Administration. The school has always been a ground of struggle and sacrifice. I have been here every summer since 1974, and Lisa — an MFA graduate — has been in her role 10 years! We can certainly attest to the upheavals of the past.
But we want you to know that The Kerouac School community has been sharing a terrific pedagogical and creative summer together; every panel, lecture, reading, and discussion has been of the highest quality — all of us have been present. The caliber of student work — readings, panels, and discourse — is excellent. The guest faculty have been stellar, their engagement, as well, is incredibly inspiring. We have a week to go, which will highlight themes of performance, collaboration, and small press publishing. Our protest is part of our practice.
We want you to know that we are here, that we support and acknowledge our students, that we are up and running, and that the SWP staff, Reed Bye, interim Chair of the W&P Department, and Naropa administrative staff and trustees are willing to meet with students to clarify and listen to concerns. We are part of a larger world and culture that is going through tremendous change, paradigm shifts of all kinds. We will all have to do with less and continue to cultivate our empathy and compassion and our artistic paths. We exist amidst huge waves of suffering as the oil spill continues to gush and harm many sentient beings and the vegetal world, as war rages, as financial cuts are made that affect everyone. It is our duty to stay awake and to provide feedback in our own communities. The writing community here at Naropa has always been an activist one, and a spiritual one. We honor this lineage.
“And while I’m here I’ll do the work. And what’s the work? To ease the pain of living — everything else, drunken dumbshow” - Allen Ginsberg
“The ground of imagination is fearless” -Diane di Prima
With gratitude and respect,
Anne Waldman Lisa Birman
Co-founder, KSDP Director, SWP
Chair, Artistic Dir, SWP Faculty, Low-Res MFA
Core Faculty, W&P
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