Playwright Mac Wellman has an interesting idea:  Give CUNY students a tuition-free Master of Fine Arts degree to allow them to study the Arts without going deep into debt. Mac wants these students to learn how they construct the world so they can understand their place in its spinning.

Mac Wellman, a distinguished professor of playwriting at Brooklyn College’s Master of Fine Arts program, noticed a few years ago that his students were having problems—ones that pithy dialogue and clever plotting couldn’t fix. “So many of them are on the edge financially,” Wellman says. “I had one student who completely freaked out. The last thing I heard him say was, ‘I’m living in a crash pad for drug addicts, and I have to get out of town.’ And he just left. One year into the MFA.” Wellman has seen several students drop out of the program for semesters or years at a time for financial reasons. Other students accepted into the program have been unable to attend, owing to the cost.

CUNY offers an extremely low tuition for its writing MFAs: only $12,000 to $15,000, with some small grants available, compared to more than $100,000 at some private colleges. Still, the cost of living in New York, combined with the debt many students already bear from their undergraduate years, makes even those low rates a problem. Instead of taking the two to three years of the MFA to concentrate on their writing, students without independent means must take on one or more jobs to afford rent, food, and tuition. And every hour a student spends working is one less hour he or she can devote to craft. …

But Wellman and his colleagues on the CUNY Affiliation Committee have a plan. They’ve recently launched a campaign entitled “CUNY Creative Writing MFA: The New Bohemia” that would fund a full tuition abatement for all creative-writing MFAs. If it succeeds, this initiative will render tuition entirely free for the programs at Brooklyn, City, Hunter, and Queens colleges.

I was fortunate to work with Mac Wellman in the early ’90s when his play, Sincerity Forever, was being produced by the Brooklyn Academy of music.  I was serving as director Jim “Married to Sigourney Weaver” Simpson’s associate and Mac was always open and friendly to me and to the entire creative staff.

Mac’s plan for a free MFA at CUNY is outstanding and we fully support his want to help smart and dedicated students be able to divine their place in the world without being burdened by a tremendous and onerous debt that can sink their hopes faster than any bad review ever could.


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