Naropa University Shake-Up/Shake-Down

Over last weekend there’s been quite a bit of confusion about what kind of shake-down is actually happening over at Naropa, with the laying off of 23 staff, huge budget cuts, and rumors of a down-scaled Kerouac School of Poetics. Summer Writing Program Director, Lisa Berman, and Anne Waldman have written the statement below to help clarify things a bit and dispel some rumors. Things still seem far from clear, so we hope to have more info before too long.


Naropa University
Department of the Summer Writing Program
Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics
2130 Arapahoe Avenue, Boulder, CO 80302
ph: 303. 546. 5296 fax: 303. 546. 5287

July 2, 2010

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 and SWP 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
Co-founder, KSDP
Chair, Artistic Dir, SWP
Core Faculty, W&P

Lisa Birman
Director, SWP
Faculty, Low-Res MFA

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