Department is wrong to put technology before poetry

Hybrid classes on social media should not supplant advanced poetry studies

The Director of the Program in Writing and Humanistic Studies, Tom Levenson, met with me and wrote a response to my opinion column in The Tech last week, clarifying a few points he feels were errors.

Mr. Levenson has said that Advanced Poetry was not “cut,” (it’s just not on the schedule, anymore), and that the decision was not a financial one — with the money he has to spend in the writing department, his commitment to poetry is: exactly four classes a year; thus, when finalizing next semester’s course offerings (which would include classes like “Writing for Social Media,” the relative worth of which I questioned in my letter), he cancels classes he feels the department can’t afford to spend any money on (which is, unless I am incredibly dense, a “budget issue”).

While I understand Mr. Levenson’s interest in hybridizing poetry and technology at MIT, in a writing program, whether you’re at a great institution like this one or at Possum Turd Community College, I do feel that choosing digital communication classes over traditional forms is a mistake.

The point is this: Mr. Levenson is still more focused on the number, rather than the depth, of the classes in the writing department’s course schedule. The reason for offering an advanced class is to allow the students who take it the opportunity to dig deeper into their chosen form, focusing their attention and honing their skills in a way that is impossible to do while still learning fundamentals. In advanced classes, the developing writer can continue to study with a teacher who is already familiar with her strengths and weaknesses, but, even more importantly, to get serious, well-informed feedback from colleagues who also have a working knowledge of the form.

Cutting the advanced poetry class does exactly what I said in my message — trades this intimate and necessary familiarity for either innovative or more basic classes. Choosing to offer technology-dependent or hybrid classes without offering the advanced classes (and, something I didn’t even mention in my column, neither asking the incredibly bright and passionate undergraduate students at MIT who major in writing for their input, nor even directly informing them that the cancelation had been made) is negligent and somewhat insulting.

Partially in response to my letter in The Tech, writing students at MIT have requested to be part of the decision-making process as the Program in Writing and Humanistic Studies restructures itself, an effort that Mr. Levenson has, much to his credit, truly welcomed. Student interest and involvement in the future of the humanities is a worthy initiative, regardless of what your opinion on the worth of poetry happens to be.

The fact that my letter in The Tech has caused so much conversation about what we, as a society, value, and why, has been a real surprise. A welcome one.

Emily Ruppel is a graduate student in the Program in Science Writing and draws the MITWIT cartoon for The Tech.