Trustees approve new degree program in Writing and Literature department


Gunter Kleist

Jensen Beach

Beginning in fall 2020, the Writing and Literature department will host a new degree program: Professional Writing, Editing, and Publishing. The proposed major was approved by the Vermont State Colleges Board of Trustees at its Dec. 2 meeting.

At the same time, the current BA in Journalism will be absorbed into this new program, ending its life as a free-standing major.

According to Professor of Writing and Literature Tyrone Shaw, this new program will focus on a wider spectrum of professional writing, including but not limited to journalism itself. This “bigger umbrella,” he says, will also focus on providing students with the concrete skills required to flourish within the broader literary publishing industry.

“The idea is to have a program that ultimately will produce four different publications,” said Shaw. “The three publications we already produce within our department will of course continue: Basement Medicine, Pamplemousse, and Green Mountains Review. But we intend to add a fourth entity, which will be a literary imprint, the first of its kind for the Vermont State Colleges. It would be called Northern Vermont University Press, which would publish books.”

The design of the new degree includes the core of the current journalism program as well as the Editing and Publishing minor and selected workshops within the existing BFA in Creative Writing.

“Basically, it’s a hybrid degree that we have created in the face of some changes that were inevitable within the department,” said Assistant Professor of Writing and Literature Jensen Beach. “As a department, we have decided there seemed to be some need on the part of the students to have some of these practical skills that combine two of the areas that we are already teaching, and that is editing and publishing and journalism. The new program will kick-start this existing initiative that we used to have where we used to publish books. The idea is to publish a book every year.”

This will be a first of its kind for the Vermont State Colleges System. While Castleton University and NVU-Lyndon have communications programs, this new degree will have a direct focus on literary publishing in addition to the journalism classes.

According to Shaw, the new program is also a way of ensuring that journalism will remain a viable part of the department’s offerings.

“It is well documented that stand-alone undergraduate journalism programs have been tanking throughout the nation,” he said, in part reflecting the loss of journalism jobs nationally. “Those that are surviving often do so by becoming part of advertising and public relations programs. We’re choosing a very different approach.”

Shaw acknowledged that the BA Journalism program at NVU-Johnson has seen declining enrollments in recent years reflecting that national trend. “Our graduates are well represented in key Vermont media outlets, but unfortunately we are not attracting enough prospective majors to continue to maintain a viable program looking ahead a few years,” he said. “In this sense, we’re being pro-active. That said, this new program is much more than a response to this particular issue. We would have gone forward with it even if enrollment in the journalism program had remained robust. We’ve been thinking about a broader-based professional writing program for a long time.”

Professors Jensen Beach, Elizabeth Powell, Tyrone Shaw, and Daniel Towner are the designers of the new program.

Current journalism majors will graduate with BA Journalism degrees even as the program moves under this larger umbrella.