Why THIS West Chester Cancellation Should Matter to You


The 2015 West Chester Poetry Conference has been cancelled. So, most probably, has the Women’s Leadership Summit (WLS) planned for November 21-23, 2014. [Update: as of Tuesday 9/30 a.m. the WLS has definitely been cancelled.] Both are fallout from the summary and absurd dismissal of Kim Bridgford as Director of the West Chester Poetry Center. However, much virtual ink has been expended on the former, and you probably didn’t even know about the latter, so why should you care? I suggest that if you care about Kim’s dismissal at least as much as you mind the Conference “hiatus,” then THIS is the West Chester cancellation that should have you asking questions.

I haven’t received official notification of this cancellation, [Update: I queried Dean Lori on Monday 9/29 and received the official notification the next morning] but as you can see from the invite, it’s definitely sponsored by West Chester Poetry Center, and if you visit the Center’s website, you will be notified that “due to a reorganization of the Poetry Center, all Fall 2014 events have been postponed.”

It’s relatively easy to cancel a conference that is almost 8 months distant, and for which the dates haven’t yet been set. Sure, you’ll have to break a few verbal contracts, and make an embarrassing phone call to former Poet Laureate Ted Kooser, and you’ll have to deal with an irate community of poets (who may turn out to be a little more irate and community-spirited than you perhaps anticipated), but no money has changed hands, so no harm done, right?Screenshot 2014-09-26 16.34.41

The WLS is a different game entirely. The invitations went out around mid-August, and featured a pocket bio of keynote speaker Sarah Lewis, an offer of either a single or double room at the Pendle Hill Retreat Center in Wallingford, PA, and promised a full program “begin[ning] with orientation on Friday at 4:30 p.m. and…conclud[ing] after breakfast on Sunday.” I mailed my check on September 2nd, and it was deposited by WCU on September 16th. (Kim, in case you need reminding, was dismissed on September 15th.) I have heard from a number of other attendees whose checks have also been deposited. I assume that there is a contract with Pendle Hill, and another with Sarah Lewis. This Summit wasn’t just planned–it was organized!

So why cancel it?

If a male business executive is caught out in wrong doing (child porn, insider trading etc. etc.) they have to fire him and march him out the building. One assumes that were he the main driver behind a Men’s Leadership Summit, they would also have to cancel said Summit. (Apologies for the sexist nature of this analogy.)

But that’s not what we’re being told is going on here.

Kim has been “reassigned to full time teaching.” The poetry conference is on hiatus “due to a reorganization of the WCU Poetry Center.” The only thing that has been let slip about the reasons given by the administration for Kim’s dismissal is that she may have failed to work closely with the WCU Foundation in fundraising (Pat Valdata, Kim’s Temporary Assistant for the 2014 Conference, on the Eratosphere thread.) That is not an offense that requires you to be marched out the building.

As Wendy Sloan commented on Facebook, “Late Thursday afternoon, 9/11, a young woman from the Poetry Center returned my call to confirm that there would be van pickup from the train station to Pendle Hill. I think she said she was a graduate student. She said goodbye, saying she was looking forward to the Summit, and would see me there!”

There is simply no good reason why the WLS should not have proceeded with Kim at the helm, whether or not she were being “reassigned to full time teaching.” Canceling it will [has] cause[d] serious bureaucratic headaches and potential financial losses, should both Pendle Hill and Sarah Lewis insist WCU make good on their contracts, while WCU has to return us our money.

And that’s why you should care. The cancellation [(or “postponement” if you prefer)] of the WLS indicates that WCU is not being straight with us about the reasons for Kim’s dismissal. WCU wanted that Poetry Center shut down at any cost!

The question you all need to ask, and keep asking, is why?

One Comment

  1. Rose

    When something smells fishy, you can say it smells fishy, you don’t have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the source of the fishy smell is in fact a fish. Maybe it’s not; maybe there’s some valid reason why Ms. Bridgford had to be fired in such an abrupt and humiliating manner; but all the explanations I’ve heard have sounded like mealy-mouthed bureaucrat-speak. I’ve heard nothing but good things about the West Chester conference from friends who have attended in recent years.

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