Dear Governor Christie,
I left London to study creative writing at Rutgers-Camden. In England, Rutgers is well known, and generally assumed to be one of the Ivy League schools. I was willing to cross the Atlantic and settle in south Jersey because of my confidence in the Rutgers name.
That confidence was not misplaced. The creative writing faculty at Rutgers-Camden is exceptional. As well as being excellent teachers, they have published poems in the New Yorker, novels with Random House and Harper Collins, and editorials in the New York Times. And the books they write make money, too, not just headlines. Adam Mansbach wrote the bestselling anti-children’s book “Go The F*** To Sleep” while teaching here. I went back to England last summer and saw his name in every bookshop window.
The creative writing students at Rutgers-Camden are an equally great asset. They win fellowships and grants, travel the country giving readings of their work, and are dedicated to community outreach: my classmates volunteer in Camden schools and offer free writing classes to local professionals.
The Masters in Fine Arts at Rutgers-Camden is only three years old, but the community we have built is growing in reputation and strength. Already teachers on the Main Line comment to me that the Rutgers MFA is “hard to get into.” The vagueness, uncertainty, and haste of this planned merger / takeover threatens to ruin all that hard work. Becoming a writer is a slow process, and we writers seek out such a community because we believe the faculty and students will be around for the next several years, able to offer support while we gradually perfect our craft. Although everyone in Camden welcomes a frank discussion of how to improve the college and the city, this particular solution does not inspire much faith: the promises of increased investment seem unfounded; the losses seem obvious and immense.
Now, I imagine that to many powerful people, the points I have just made will seem laughable. Creative writing doesn’t bring in million-dollar grants; who cares what a bunch of English teachers think? But perhaps one reason for the outrage and panic felt across South Jersey is that these merger proposals fail to offer any sort of a coherent narrative. No detailed and vivid story of hope and improvement has been presented—a story that would feel real and meaningful to the thousands of people who depend upon this college. And while I know that the proposals are still at an early stage, your promise to push them through—whatever they may eventually be—makes you seem quite suspicious. Speaking as a writing teacher, were a student to hand me a story of these events, with you as that story’s main character, I would tell the student: there doesn’t seem to be sufficient motivation for your protagonist’s actions. Either the story needs restructuring, or your character must have hidden motives.
Governor, I’m sure you don’t have any ulterior motives. But had you asked us writers, we could have warned you how your readers would respond. We’re very good at what we do, and we’re not far from Trenton—just an hour on the Riverline. We’d be happy to offer our help.
We are already constructing an outstanding writing department at Rutgers-Camden. Please don’t destroy everything we’ve built.