Fiction Writing chair’s contract not renewed

By Contributing Writer

by Monica Reida

Contributing Writer

In a sudden development that has yet to be explained by Columbia administrators, as of Feb. 24, Randall Albers is no longer the chair of the Fiction Writing Department.

According to Patricia McNair, acting chair of the Fiction Writing Department, the office of Eliza Nichols, dean of the School of Fine and Performing Arts, sent a letter Feb. 24 to the faculty and staff of the department with news regarding Albers’ position.

According to the letter, his contract as department chair was not renewed. The letter did not specify the reason for the decision but made it clear that it was not the result of poor performance as chair, which Nichols confirmed but would not comment on any further.

“He’s been an absolutely wonderful chair,” she said.

Albers had been with Columbia since 1978 when he started as a part-time faculty member in the English Department. He went full time in 1980, and the Fiction Writing Department was founded in 1986. He was the chair of the department for 16 years and is the founding producer of Story Week, the department’s annual celebration of writers and the written word.

The change in personnel comes during the college’s prioritization process, during which Louise Love, interim provost and vice president of Academic Affairs, recommended that the Fiction Writing Department be combined into a new Creative Writing Department that would also include creative non-fiction and poetry.

“It’s our intention to bring our strengths from the student-centered Fiction Writing Department to the Creative Writing Department,” said Associate Chair Gary Johnson.

According to Nichols, the decision to not renew Albers’ contract was not related to the prioritization process.

“It just happened to be that his term came up this year,” she said.

Albers declined to comment on the matter.

Brendan Buck, senator in the Student Government Association and senior fiction writing major, said he first heard rumors about the restructuring plan last October when SGA President Cassandra Norris made an off-handed comment about the Fiction Writing and English departments becoming one.

“She suggested prioritization would make [the merger] happen,” Buck said.

There will be an interim chair of the Fiction Writing Department while exploring the creation of a Creative Writing Department, Nichols added.

Albers had been advocating for a Creative Writing Department for many years, but according to him, there will still be a Fiction Writing Department next year.

“We consider writing an art,” he said.

Nichols also supports the merger.

“I think it’s a great thing for our college,” she said. “I think it’s a great thing for our writing programs and I think it’s a great thing for our students.”

According to McNair, the Fiction Writing Department will continue to organize events that have helped define the department, including Story Week, Fiction Writers at Lunch and a reading at Manifest.

Albers had been on sabbatical during the 2011–2012 school year and will return to the college as a fiction writing professor in fall 2012. According to McNair, Albers will still be present at this year’s Story Week.

“We’re here to serve the students in the best way we know how,” he said.

Albers said he will play no part in choosing his interim replacement or

permanent successor.

“I’m not going to take a role in that [decision] because I think the full-time faculty should talk to the dean,” Albers said.

Wyl Villacres, senior fiction writing major, has spearheaded a petition to keep Albers as chair. Villacres said he received the news Feb. 27 through an email from a former instructor. His displeasure with the news spurred him to begin distributing petitions, which are in the Fiction Writing Office, located on the 12th floor of the South Campus Building, 624 S. Michigan Ave. and being circulated throughout fiction classes.

Villacres said he intends to have petitions at Story Week because Albers created it. Although Villacres said he feels the prioritization process is rather secretive, he said the news regarding Albers’ contract was “like a slap in the face.”

“The Chicago model is when people get uppity, you shut them out,” Villacres said. “I wouldn’t be as viscerally upset if they were transparent.”

The website,, was developed by Arnie Raiff, Chris Rice, Elizabeth Yokas, Marcia Brenner, Polly Mills and Viki Gonia, all part-time faculty members in the Fiction Writing Department. The site was created with testimonials and a petition to keep Albers in his position.

“We got an email on [Feb. 24] at about 8 p.m.,” said Rice, who has been teaching in the department for 16 years. “We started talking about it and started working on it Feb. 25.”

The decision to not renew Albers’ contract shocked many, she said.

“This was something that couldn’t stand, and we had to do something about it,”

Rice said.

According to her, once the petition has enough signatures, it will be hand-delivered to Nichols.

“What we’re not excited about is the way that Randy was dismissed,” Rice said.

Although the website and Villacre’s petitions are separate, Villacres said he would love to combine them.

Albers said he appreciates the support he has received in response to the decision.

“I received a lot of messages. I am, of course, gratified, humbled and deeply moved,” he said. “I’ve heard from people I haven’t heard from in years and people I see every day. I couldn’t thank them enough.”

There will be a March 14 forum for students to express their opinions on the decision. It is scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. in the South Campus Building, 624 S. Michigan Ave., room 1206.