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FAQ - Clarion's Move to UCSD



Why did the Clarion Workshop leave MSU?

Three years ago, MSU decided to pull the plug on its financial support of the workshop. In response, several previous faculty members formed a nonprofit foundation with Kate Wilhelm at its head to look for the best place and the best way to continue. This process has taken more than two years. In the end, there were only three actual offers -- one from Lenoir Rhyne in Hickory, North Carolina, one from UC San Diego, and one from Michigan State's Office of Outreach and Engagement. Neither the Lenoir Rhyne nor the Outreach proposal provided full funding. They were good offers, and could have been made to work, but they did not provide any guarantees beyond a year, and left the Foundation responsible for unforeseen expenses and a small, fully foreseen annual shortfall. Only UC San Diego's offer covered all expenses and guaranteed that committment for a five year period.


How much control over the workshop will UCSD have?

The Workshop will be no less autonomous than it would have been as an independent workshop and more autonomous than it was under the old system at MSU. The foundation will retain control over student and faculty selection and operating procedures. UC San Diego has no wish to change Clarion in any way.


Is UCSD planning to fold Clarion into its MFA program in creative writing?

This is a question that popped up in the blogosphere a while ago and has spread like wildfire, to the point where we feel we should address it here. First we'd like to point out that Clarion is now organized as a 501(c)(3) foundation, which gives us equal negotiating status with our host institution -- and specifically with UCSD -- something we didn't have in the past. UCSD may be bigger than we are, but we are equal partners under the law and, more importantly, Clarion is the partner that brings UCSD into contact with the sf/f writer community as well as the sf/f fan community. In other words, UCSD is getting as much from Clarion as Clarion is getting from UCSD. We wouldn't dream of allowing Clarion to be subsumed by an MFA program. And UCSD wouldn't want to do anything that jeopardizes our relationship with them.

To quote Jim Shea, UCSD's Director of Constitutent Relations, "If the Clarion Foundation decides to move the Workshop from UCSD at some future date, what will we have? Nothing. This is a key point. The Clarion Workshop is an incredible asset to the national community of writers and writers-to-be. But the asset is built around its participants, both faculty and student, and not around the empty shell that is the words, 'the Clarion Workshop.' It's a community of people who come together around a writers' workshop, Foundation board members planning that year's faculty line-up and bringing them together, the faculty building off each other's talents and their students' energy, the students risking a lot to chase a dream, and the friends, alumni and supporters buying books and gewgaws at the eBay auction, supporting scholarships for the students, and volunteering. If Clarion goes, all of this goes; it won't stay with UCSD. So we depend, and always will, on the goodwill of the sf/f community and all its constituent parts. We would do nothing that might damage that. Yes, UCSD is putting in place a Creative Writing MFA program. Yes, we see Clarion as a wonderful adjunct to that, because creative writers feed off fellow creative writers the same way our neuroscientists feed off the other neuroscientists floating around campus and around the Torrey Pines Mesa. It's the nature of knowledge and learning, it feeds off itself. But we want the Clarion Workshop for what it is and what it always has been: because it's the best sf/f writing workshop in the nation. There's nothing nefarious behind it, unless chasing excellence is nefarious."


Won't this make the workshop more expensive, especially for students in the East and Midwest?

The cost to our students was our paramount concern. Initially it appeared that California housing costs would make the move unworkable. But a committee from the UC Literature Department negotiated competitive prices on our behalf. The workshop itself, including housing and food, will cost each student approximately what it would have under the proposed 2007 budgets at MSU Outreach or Lenoir Rhyne.

As to travel -- airfare to San Diego appears to be reasonably comparable to airfare to Lansing. As of today, it's cheaper to get to Lansing from Boston or Raleigh, cheaper to get to San Diego from New York or Tallahassee. But in all cases the difference is modest. For those who would have driven, the cost of airfare may, of course, prove difficult. But with UC San Diego paying all expenses, the foundation can concentrate on raising money for scholarship support. We are confident that no one who could have afforded the program at MSU will find themselves priced out at San Diego.


What will happen when the five years of funding UCSD is guaranteeing are up?

It's true that university budgets generally lack transparency. But universities everywhere require semi-independent programs like Clarion to find a way to pay for themselves (the "semi" being that we need an institutional home that can administer the program; the "independent" being that we run our own teaching and admissions and have complete creative control). All of Clarion's problems at MSU stemmed from the fact that the workshop could never bring in enough money to cover what it cost the university to run it. Even with the increased fees to students (which, by the way, would have happened whether we stayed at MSU or not) Clarion still faces a serious funding gap at its new home -- somewhere between 10 and 20 percent of total costs. To address this issue, UCSD's offer includes two special commitments: first, they will raise funds to bridge the revenue gap; and second, they will provide complete transparency, sharing annual revenue and cost figures with the Foundation so that we are fully informed at all times.

The University is not, however, putting in current UCSD funds to cover those costs; and they are not putting in currently held UCSD scholarship funds to cover those costs. So far, the university's commitment has been the time of the various administrators working on the proposal with the Foundation Board, and the services of a senior fundraiser, Jim Shea, who is already actively seeking ways to cover the budget gap. Jim says, "I have confidence that we will be able to cover the shortfall for years one and two using expendable cash; in fundraising terms, that means I have the two years we'll need to raise an endowment fund that will support the workshop in perpetuity. The sole purpose of the endowment will be to support the Clarion Workshop as currently designed, and it will involve new money. In addition, we will be fundraising for scholarship funding from new sources, establishing at least one endowed fund within the UCSD Foundation for endowed Clarion scholarships, and also fundraising for current-use Clarion scholarships. At the same time, since there will be those in the Clarion community who will prefer to give their support directly to the Clarion Foundation, we will be helping the Foundation to be more effective in raising scholarship money as well -- joint programming, targeted initiatives, etc."

So out there in the community, if you have the ability and you want Clarion to thrive and want to support its students, any amount of cash will help to build the endowment and scholarship funds that Clarion students need and will continue to need in the coming decades. It isn't important whether that funding goes to the Clarion Foundation or to UCSD -- we are partners in this, so helping one helps us both. (We'd also like to mention that Clarion and UCSD are both a 501(c)(3) charities for tax purposes and for employee match purposes; so if anyone out there wants to give and works for a company with an employee matching program, your contribution can be immediately doubled.) We also need some "major" donors, people with the wherewithal to help at a significant level and the desire to see Clarion thrive. Any such funds contributed to UCSD will be structured to the benefit of the Clarion Workshop, and cannot be diverted to other programs. (Doing that would threaten UCSD's 501(c)(3) status, which is a university's life blood.) Please contact the Foundation or Jim Shea ( if you're able to help. There is no nefarious long-term strategy here, other than giving Clarion a permanent home with a permanent funding base that will put its annual budget crisis safely in the distant past.


Why move from the Midwest? Does the West Coast really need two Clarion workshops?

We did not go looking for a home on the west coast. In fact, early on, the board voted overwhelmingly to keep the workshop east of the Mississippi. Many schools were approached, including New York, MIT and other schools in Boston, Iowa, Philadelphia, Chicago. We did not begin to talk to San Diego until we'd reached a point at which it seemed we had no other options. To find ourselves finally with three possibilities this summer was a delightful surprise.

Still the more we looked at San Diego, the more we found to like and those advantages eventually overwhelmed the disadvantage of a second west coast workshop. The enthusiasm at UCSD for Clarion and for science fiction was evident throughout negotiations. The offer that came in had broad support from faculty and administration, from literature and the sciences.

So our decision was not simply a matter of finances. UC San Diego is one of the finest science schools in the world. Our students will have the opportunity to meet and talk with scientists at the very top (and outer edges) of their fields. San Diego's Sixth College is specifically designed around issues of art, culture, and technology and parts of the campus already resemble a science fiction novel. Plus the campus science fiction group has the third largest sf lending library in the country.


What will happen to the Clarion archives?

The archives were a difficult issue. What we would have liked -- to keep them well-housed, to keep them with the workshop, and to keep them ours, was not possible. Lenoir Rhyne did not have the library facilities of the other two schools. If the archives had been left at MSU, the foundation would have had to give them to MSU. In moving them to UC San Diego, we will have to give them to the Regents of the University of California. The arrangement we have made is that they will stay at the San Diego campus as long as the workshop does. Should we move away, they will be moved to the Riverside campus to be housed with the Eaton collection, one of the largest science fiction collections in the world.


Will it still be called Clarion East?

Clarion has never referred to itself as Clarion East. That's a moniker that emerged in the general science fiction community when Clarion West was established some decades after Clarion -- a handy informal way to differentiate the two. We will remain Clarion. It is important to add that Clarion West has been a great friend to us throughout this difficult period, offering us crucial advice and support. We have no desire to do anything that would harm their program in anyway. It's a big coast and we're on opposite ends of it.


Clarion is supported in part by
the Arthur C. Clarke Center
for Human Imagination at the
University of California San Diego

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Copyright © 2006-2022 by The Clarion Foundation

Updated March 04, 2017





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