We are members, alumni and supporters of the Fiction Writing Department at Columbia College Chicago where, for over forty years, students have learned to give their voices in story. Today we write to protest and question the college administration’s abrupt decision to refuse renewal of the contract of Randall Albers, Fiction Department Chair, after over 16 years of exemplary service.
This announcement was sent to Fiction Department faculty and staff via email at 6 p.m. Friday evening, February 24th by Eliza Nichols, Dean of the School of Fine and Performing Arts. In the letter, Dean Nichols certainly had nothing but praise for Randy’s many accomplishments as Department Chair. He is—and this is inarguable even by Dean Nichols’s letter—an excellent writer, an inspiring teacher, a visionary, and a savvy businessperson. He is a force for positive creative energy. Anyone who has ever had a literary discussion with him, seen him striding down the hall, or spoken with him at one of the many literary events around town will testify to this. To his staff he upholds a commitment to excellence in both the art and craft of writing, as well as the teaching of writing. As many administrators and faculty throughout the college can attest, he is a fair, compassionate, and experienced negotiator. We are uniformly thankful for his ability to inspire and delight students, faculty, and visitors, and to create an amazing community in which to produce art.
During his 16 years as the Department Chair, Randy developed the Fiction Writing Department into one of the largest graduate and undergraduate creative writing programs in the country. We do not exaggerate when we say it is an extraordinary and special place. Randy has been a dedicated teacher since the 1970s. He earned his Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from the University of Chicago and served as the Fiction Writing Department’s Director of Faculty Development before his post as Chair began in 1996. One of his first achievements as Department Chair was the founding of the Story Week Festival of Writers which has grown into a nationally renowned event showcasing such writers and guests as Joyce Carol Oates, Salman Rushdie, Junot Diaz, Sherman Alexie, Donna Seaman, Irvine Welsh, Francine Prose, ZZ Packer, Jennifer Egan, Stuart Dybek, Dennis Lehane, the late Hubert Selby Jr. and Studs Terkel, and countless others. Randy has also helped establish Columbia College Chicago’s international presence by developing the Bath Spa International Student Exchange Program and the Prague Study Abroad Program. He has guided the development of countless students, respected authors and teachers.
The Fiction Writing Department embraces a number of teaching styles and approaches. In addition to the Story Workshop approach which is used in five core classes, we offer specialty writing and genre courses, seminars and critical reading and writing courses, many of which are taught by talented writing and editing professionals who offer diverse methodologies and pedagogies integrated in a supportive and collegial writing community. Our faculty has some of the highest evaluations and student retention rates in the College and this is a testament to Randy’s commitment to teaching excellence.
As Eliza Nichols herself noted in Friday’s letter, his credits and accomplishments are “beyond counting.” So the question remains: why wouldn’t Randall Albers, Teacher of the Year Award recipient, and repeat top ten finalist (this year #6) on New City’s “50 Most Influential Chicago Literary Figures” not be rehired as Chair?
This decision, one that was announced days before the Provost’s provisional recommendations regarding Department changes, has not been explained. We are forced to draw the conclusion that this comes down to two issues. One is the unfortunate fact that more and more institutions of learning—from grade schools to colleges—are focused on business rather than education. These decisions have been made despite the fact that CCC has, like many colleges, found resources to hire additional administrators while part-timers, 77% of CCC’s teaching faculty, work without a contract, health insurance and many benefits.
During the past year, while Randy Albers was on sabbatical, CCC was evaluated by Bob Dickeson’s consulting firm Academic Strategy Partners under the title “Blueprint Prioritization.” During the process of this evaluation many things came to light. First, Academic Strategy Partners has a history of “prioritizing” many faculty members out of jobs. Second, Bob Dickeson’s philosophy is business-based, and often sees things only in terms of dollars spent rather than value earned. For instance, his treatise on high college tuition rates suggests that tenured faculty are “costly” and “difficult for college administrators to remove,” but makes no mention of considering the value of someone with such experience.
This evaluation suggested a departmental restructuring. The Fiction Department faculty welcomes that initiative. We very much welcome the chance to collaborate with other teachers with whom we rarely get the opportunity to interact. In fact, Randy has long supported restructuring a new Creative Writing Department. He has a proven record of leading the Department through significant change and renewal while continually innovating and broadening the Department’s scope by adding classes and pedagogies including genre and other specialty writing courses, diverse Critical Reading and Writing courses, and the creation of the interdisciplinary Playwriting major. He has worked to create fruitful collaborations with the Journalism and English Departments to promote Creative Nonfiction Week and invited the English Department to be part of this year’s Story Week Festival. In short, Randy is integral to the forming of this new department.
So what does it mean when a visionary leader of Randy’s caliber is not rehired? That a leader so integral to the largest student writing population in the school is left completely out of a departmental restructuring to create a new Creative Writing Department? That he is essentially demoted after 16 years of bringing his department national renown? It would certainly suggest an agenda to dissolve the Fiction Writing Department, and a move towards not rehiring a large group of part-time faculty members who have been teaching long enough to be deemed expensive, but not valuable. We cannot ignore the recent troubles other colleges have experienced due to “managerial myopia.”
And we, the faculty who have been part of the family Randy has helped create in the Fiction Writing Department, will not allow this decision to go unaddressed.
How did the administration arrive at this decision? Why is the administration outpacing the phases of the process as initially presented? We request a Listening Forum, dedicated solely to all full- and part-time faculty and staff of Poetry, Creative Nonfiction, and the Fiction Writing Department. We request that Dean Nichols, Acting Provost Louise Love, and at least one Board member be present at this forum.
The Columbia College motto esse quam videri means “to be, rather than to seem.” And we, the faculty, take that seriously. We will not accept a cheap and shoddy remixing of a Creative Writing Department that feigns inclusiveness and pretends to accept diversity, when it excludes one of the predominant pedagogies that has been a foundation for success. We do not pretend that any restructuring of a Creative Writing Department can successfully happen without the input of one of the most visionary, talented, fair, and influential members of the Chicago writing community. We will not pretend that the administration has the students’ best interests at heart when decisions are being made to quell, without consulting faculty, a largely imagined “conflict” and cut costs in a department that has consistently expanded its student base. We will not pretend that this decision considers what is best for the future of all CCC writing majors, and we firmly believe it will undermine the reputation and mission of Columbia College Chicago.
We support CCC’s heritage and mission. This school was founded in 1890 with a grand tradition as the Columbia School of Oratory, where students developed communication skills through courses in elocution, voice culture, visible speech, literature and English—all of which are in some way alive and well in the Fiction Writing Department. It is possible to combine departments and create change in line with the college’s mission statement, without devaluing the very people who have helped build this institution. Moreover, in pursuit of this goal, it is short-sighted to devalue the Fiction Writing major and degree that employers across all industries highly regard and that our students and alumni have worked hard to earn (and for which they’ve paid considerable, ever-increasing tuition).
Columbia students are urged to “author the culture of their times.” We call upon the administration to make an effort to be inclusive, fair, and represent the type of communication to which we ask our students to aspire. We ask students, parents, and alumni, the Chicago and national literary community, and all who value the written word and who believe in the power of a great story to recognize that there is a time to stand up and fight for our students and for the future of education.
We fight for Randall Albers.
To add your name to this petition, or to add a written, video or audio testimonial to this site, contact us or email albersforchair (at) gmail.com.
Christine Rice, MFA; Fiction Writing Adjunct Faculty; Chair of Young Authors Writing Contest; Co-Faculty Editor of Hair Trigger; contributor to WBEZ’s Eight-Forty-Eight; former freelance writer Chicago Tribune; current managing editor of Hypertextmag.com
Elizabeth Yokas, MFA ’00; Adjunct Faculty; Manager, Prague Study Abroad Programs, 2007 – 2012; Coordinator, Semester in LA and Florence Study Programs, 2007 – 2012; Freelance copywriter
Marcia Brenner, BA 2000; MFA 2005; Adjunct Faculty
Viki Gonia, BA ’93; MFA Candidate ’12; Adjunct Faculty; Columnist, Pioneer Press
Gina DiPonio, MFA ’11; Adjunct Faculty
Cat Jiminez Gray
Brian Costello, MFA ’04; Freelance Writer, Chicago Reader; Touring musician, novelist, comedian
Patrick J. Salem
Tracy Hayes Odena, MFA 1999; Editor, EYES IN Magazine
Susan Lanier, MFA Creative Writing, Expected in 2012; Features Writer for Cision Navigator.
Germania Solorzano, MFA 2002; Part-time faculty in Fiction Writing
Stephanie Kuehnert, BA ’03, MFA ’06; author of I WANNA BE YOUR JOEY RAMONE and BALLADS OF SUBURBIA published by MTV Books, a division of Simon & Schuster; freelancer for Rookie Magazine and Forest Park Review.
Nicolette Kittinger, BFA ’09; MFA ’12
Katie Corboy, ’94 BA; ’97 MFA; Administration at UIC/ Writer
Liz Baudler, BA, Fiction Writing ’12; Vice President of the Fiction Writing Student Board; Founding Editrice, The Toucan Literary Magazine; Managing Editor, Transcendent Journeys Ezine
Dakota Sexton, BFA ’10, Web Editor at Yoga International
Lauryn Allison Lewis
April Galarza, BA 2006
Jael Montellano, BA 2011
Dale Chapman, Film/Video, P-fac
Gus Rose, Adjunct Faculty
Lisa Redmond, ’06, Adjunct Faculty
Marianne Murciano Sirott
Kat Wyand, Class of 2012, Audio Arts & Acoustics
Sharee Chapman, MFA ’01; owner, The Tutoring Academy, Portland, OR
Shannon Renee Neubauer
Chelsea Laine Wells, ’07, Salutatorian
Wyl Villacres, Current Fiction Writing student
Sheryl Johnston, Class of 1993, BA in Fiction Writing; 1998-2011 — Worked with Randy Albers as consultant for Story Week Festival of Writers. Roles included publicist, Managing Director, Artistic Consultant, now Board member.
Mary R. Goluszka
Amy Camarena, President Fiction Writing Department Student Board; Fiction Writing Tutor
Jillian Robinson, Columbia Alum ’08
Marcela Landres, Author of the e-book “How Editors Think: The Real Reason They Rejected You”
J. D. Doss
Anne Marie Farrell
Chris L. Terry
Gail Wallace Bozzano
Jani Bowe, BA Fiction Writing 2009; Social Media Marketing and Recruiting
Sooz Main, ’11 Valedictorian; Teaching Artist for Columbia College’s Center for Community Arts Partnerships
Lila Jokanovic, MFA ’02; Former Adjunct Faculty; Council Oak Montessori School, Head Directress
Kevin Freese, MFA 2008; Editor, Carnival Magazine
Behnam Riahi, BA Fiction Writing
Sarah Proulx Calfee, MFA ’06
Siera Cerny, ’11
Marissa Garcia, Bachelor of Arts, Fiction Writing, Class of 2009; Children’s Librarian at the Berwyn Public Library
Kathy Churay, ’11
Mary Beth Hoerner, MFA, Fiction Writing, Columbia 2007; (MA, English, U of I, Champaign-Urbana); Network Playwright, Chicago Dramatists; Board Member, 2nd Story; Co-host, Chicago Way Literary Reading Series
Jennifer Mokhiber, BA 2011 (Fiction Writing)
Nick Dwyer, MFA Fiction Writing ’97; MA ’06 University of Chicago; School Social Worker, Calumet City District 155
Ira Brooker, MFA Fiction Writing 2008; Managing Editor, Best Buy Mobile Magazine
Greg Baldino, BA ’11; Former president of the Fiction Writing Student Board; writer for the American Library Association
Rachel Corsini, ’09; Editorial Assistant, Springer Science & Business Media, LLC
Caitlin C. Morrison
Kevin Peterson ’06
Mark Child, MFA 2002
Deb R. Lewis, MFA 2002; Part-time instructor in Fiction Writing; 2nd Story Company Member
Harlan Vaughn ’10
Jeff Dittburner, Class of 2013; Fiction Writing Major
Lisa Bess Kramer, MFA ’98
Drew Ferguson, Bachelor of Arts, 1995; Master of Fine Arts, 1998; Senior Vice President, Reputation Risk; Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide; Author, The Screwed-up Life of Charlie the Second (Kensington 2008); Former part-time faculty honored by the college for teaching excellence in 2000; Donor
Sam O. Snow
Alexis Thomas, B.A Fiction Writing 2011; 10th grade English teacher/ Special Education Case Worker
Nancy North, MFA ’02
Jeryl Levin, ’86
Lynn Shapiro, MFA ’06; Adjunct Faculty
Stephen Wade Roberts
Robert Biedrzycki, Part-Time Faculty
Dr. James Ragan, Director Emeritus, Graduate Professional Writing Program, University of Southern California; Distinguished Visiting Professor, Faculty of Arts, Charles University, Prague CZ
Tera Vale Ragan
Marcia E. Lazar
Bekah Main Mellema
Hillary Johnson, MFA ’06; Outreach teacher; Adjunct faculty
Jaimee Wriston Colbert, SUNY, Binghamton University
Patricia Pinianski, MT; Writing Faculty Adjunct; Published Novelist
Chris DeGuire, BA 1996; MFA 2008; MA 2010; Adjunct faculty
Keesha Johnson, 2008 MFA Creative Writing Alum; CCC Portfolio Center Marketing Coordinator
Lillian Weiss Schmid
Jessica Bahowick, Director/Screenwriter
Teneice Durrant Delgado