Writer-in-Residence Position Extended
By Elaine Teng '12, Editor-in-Chief
Though many students have perhaps never heard of him, Daniel Hall, Writer-in-Residence and Chair of the Creative Writing Center, received a large boost from students and faculty last week after President Tony Marx vetoed a proposal to make his position a renewable one. However, after many students and colleagues wrote letters of support and protested the decision, the College is now taking a step back in its decision and will reevaluate the structure of the Creative Writing program and the Writer-in-Residence position.

The Writer-in-Residence role in its current capacity is a three-year appointment with a two-term limit, and the holder of the position is responsible for teaching classes, organizing readings throughout the year and helping select the Visiting Writer, the other rotating position in the Creative Writing Center.

“The position is designed for a professional writer, which could be a novelist or a poet, and the idea is that they will teach three courses in a year,” said Dean of Faculty Gregory Call. “So it’s a somewhat reduced teaching load to acknowledge that a professional writer wants to be very active in continuing their writing, but it’s also a position as it is currently structured that has a certain amount of administrative responsibilities.”

Hall is currently in his seventh year as the Writer-in-Residence, one more than is allowed under the system at the moment, as the College moves forward in discussions about the structure of the position. Marx’s initial decision to make the position non-renewable, however, met with much surprise and disapproval from many of the college community, as it went against the recommendations of the English department, the Committee on Educational Policy and the Committee of Six. Because Hall does not have a Ph.D., he cannot apply for a tenure-track position and therefore would have had to leave the College once his term was up while a new search was conducted to fill the position. In their letters to Marx and other members of the administration, students and faculty expressed their regret at the decision and conveyed their admiration for Hall and their appreciation for what he has done for the College.

“Daniel Hall is an incredible poet and teacher. His classes are some of the best I’ve had at Amherst, easily on a level with those taught by tenured professors,” said Magdalena Cassel ’12. “He enriches the Amherst College community not only through his classes and events, but by encouraging a relationship between students and Amherst town residents, Daniel is the embodiment of many of our school’s professed values. I’m sure President Marx is following his best judgment, but I don’t know whether that judgment takes into account how much Daniel Hall would be able to continue to add to our academic and artistic community as Writer-in-Residence.”

Max Kaisler ’11 echoed Cassel’s sentiments and also emphasized the individuality and uniqueness that Hall brings to the College.

“He’s put so many years in here that it just seems really unfair to him as a person, but also not fair to students, especially students who are thinking of doing poetry,” she said. “He has so much experience and he diversifies the faculty because, you know, he didn’t go to college. He worked at a cannery in Alaska and he worked in China. He’s very different from lots of Amherst professors and has a different outlook on poetry than lots of professors, [and] students would be missing out on him and everything he brings. That’s why I personally was upset about it.”

After receiving the flurry of letters, the administration stepped back to reevaluate its decision and Call will now offer Hall another two-year contract while the English Department, which contains the Creative Writing program, sits down with the administration to reassess the design of the position. According to Call, there are many possibilities on the table, such as changing the appointment to be more permanent or shifting other positions within the program.

“We decided that the best thing to do was not to make an absolute decision, but rather take some time and allow the English Department to think this through and come back to us and perhaps have more conversation,” he said. “We have a great respect for Professor Hall and how well the program is functioning. It’s really a marvelous part of the College, and one of the great things we’ve come to in this decision is a means of preserving its strength and finding the best way to organize it for our students.”

Issue 09, Submitted 2010-11-17 02:45:31