Writers fear impact of immediate publicity
Several Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in creative writing students at Washington University have begun to speak out against a policy under which theses are uploaded to the Internet, fearing that the new policy will hurt their chances of being published later in life.
Aiming to promote academic collaboration, the University implemented a new policy in February of 2009 under which theses were available as PDF documents and accessible to anyone. While this policy has assisted researchers in certain fields in which theses build off one another, MFA students say the the practice is detrimental for creative writers.
“We write novels or short story collections, and that’s work that we’d eventually like to publish as a book. When it’s made available online to the University, it becomes almost impossible to do that,” said Colin Bassett, a student in the MFA in creative writing program.
According to Marshall N. Klimasewiski, the director of the program, publishing companies will not want to publish stories that are not exclusive to the company.
“I think all of those places want to make sure that the product they’re going to sell is the only place that the work will be available. And this [University policy] would have meant that this work would be available for free instead,” Klimasewiski said.
When students in the writing program found out about this policy change from a student who had turned in her thesis in August, they organized to try to ensure that this problem was fixed before they had to turn in their theses on May 3.
Students contacted Klimasewiski to discuss the problem with other university officials. According to Klimasewiski and students, the University response was very prompt.
The University proposed a permanent embargo on the works for students in the writing program. Previously, a six-month, one-year or two-year embargo was allowed for all students’ theses; now, however, students in the creative writing program will be allowed permanent control over where their work is published. They will still turn their theses in electronically, but the University will not be allowed to publish them online.
“They’ll still take the thesis at the library, but it won’t be available to the public, if one chooses that option. And for us, that’s perfect and that’s exactly what we’re hoping for,” Klimasewiski said.
While this proposal is not yet official, the University administrators are waiting on the students in the program to agree to it.
“Dean Fox is just waiting for me to tell her that all of the graduate students have said they like that solution,” Klimasewiski said.
He expects that the option will be ready by May 3.
According to Bassett, students who have already defended their theses are waiting for this option to be available before they submit their theses online.
Klimasewiski expects many of the graduating students to choose this option.
“I bet many will, and I bet maybe a few won’t. I’m not sure,” Klimasewiski said. “I’m glad that they’ll have the option either way.”
Klimasewiski and Bassett mentioned that this situation has occurred at other schools in the past, such as at the University of Iowa in 2008. However, Iowa was a lot slower in changing the policy.
As a result, students were not expecting the University to fix this problem so quickly.
“I was very concerned; we had a very limited window to get this done in, and I had no idea how the University would respond. At best it seemed like even if people wanted to change the policy, even a matter of weeks was not a long enough time for anything to get done,” Bassett said.
Marshall was not surprised to hear back so quickly, but understood why the students were so concerned.
“Dealing with [Washington University] with problems that have arisen in recent years has been great,” Marshall said. “I think students have been surprised because they were looking at the University of Iowa and how it became a big problem there.”
Bassett echoed feelings of appreciation to the University’s response. “The University has been very receptive to our concerns, and we have great hopes that the problem is going to be solved.”