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It’s time the truth came out.

I have decided I’ve lived with this long enough and it’s time someone told the truth.

I got shafted.

Let’s start at the beginning. I spent 10 years of my life caring for my parents until the death of my father. At that time I tried to revive my writing career but was failing phenomenally. I’m not the most disciplined writer sometimes and no one’s interested in hiring a writer whose glories are all in the past. So, I screwed up my courage and went back to school. I had two choices; return to the University of Alberta and get a Master’s degree or even obtain a degree in business communications or go to Grant MacEwan’s Professional Writing course. I’d been hearing about the PROW program for years and believed it would do what it said, get me contacts within the writing industry.

As the knight in the Indiana Jones movie said, “she chose poorly.” (Well, he actually says “he”, but then I’m not a he so I’ve happily changed it.)

I have very fond memories of my time at U of A. I made friends there I’m still friends today. I use every single thing I learned there, both in and out of the classroom, in my writing. I was an English Literature major and a Religious Studies minor. I even recommend writers, new and established, read religious texts to help improve their writing. I could have gone here.

Instead I chose the PROW program. What I didn’t know at the time I enrolled was the program was in the process of being shut down. Many of the classes I wanted were phased out by the time I arrived. I didn’t find out about the program shutting down until a full semester into my program. By that time it was far too late to leave the program. Nice.

There are still the contacts, though, right? Wrong. Many of the instructors I had (with an exception or two) had severe ego problems. These were not people I wanted to keep as contacts, professional or otherwise. One instructor had a habit of telling us, in detail, about the problems in their life. This included details about their marriage, family and even hopes and dreams. This may sound cold, but I don’t care if you and your partner (husband, wife, pet toy) aren’t talking. Teach me. Another instructor constantly told the students they weren’t ready for “real” writing experience yet. In the writing world, this means publishing. When asked when we would be ready, the instructor said “we would know.” How’s that for a vague answer. So, this instructor kept a constant barrage of pushing us down so they could feel better about themselves. I received a warning from the school for doing an assessment for class on the magazine, “Playboy” because of the nudity. Oh, just to let you know, there were pictures of naked women all over the halls. That was art, I was told. “Playboy” was smut. Really? Depicting beautiful, naked women in exquisite poses is smut? In depth, forward-thinking articles about current events is smut? Right.

These were the contacts I was supposed to rely on in order to move my career forward.

These people could barely keep their own egos out of the way of their teaching. Instead of encouraging, I heard a lot of double-talk. “Yes, go ahead and send in your article/story/whatever but I don’t think they’ll take it. You’re not ready yet.” Then get me ready! Even when I graduated I was hearing this nonsense. However, that, while annoying, I can ignore. What happened in my second year sent me straight to counselling.

The first incident I’ll talk about is about person X. X had some psychological issues, but having come from that track already in my life I tried to be understanding. This person was very animated, which made me nervous, but I tried to be patient. We were grouped together for a project and things seemed to be going well enough.

I don’t know if X was having a bad day or if X just needed the attention. When we met for a weekly meeting to see the progression of our various parts, I asked to present my stuff first as I had to go and pick up my mother (who has Alzheimer’s) for her weekly night out. There are few things that come before my writing and my mother is one of them. I started to present my stuff and suddenly X was standing up, hitting the projection screen with her hand and screaming at me about Russian dolls. This was a website project on revenants (undead). I had no clue what was going on. Humiliated, I left my stuff on the table and quietly walked out. Once outside, I burst into tears and went into the office. I’d had enough. I was quitting the class. After the program head’s assistant calmed me down a bit, I went to get my mother and talked to my best friend about what happened. Then I truly calmed down.

The instructor of the class allowed me to do my project on my own instead of grouping me with someone else. That was acceptable. Here’s what wasn’t. Every single other person in that group saw what happened. When the instructor asked them about it, not one person stood up for me and said, “yes, it was over the top.” No one. See, X was such a manic personality, that she was doing all the organizing and would spend up to 16 hours a day doing the project. The others just had to sit back and watch the A-grade roll in. They hung me out to dry for a grade.

The next incident involved the same instructor who was teaching a different class. Again, I was grouped with some people and thought things would be fine. They really weren’t. In order to hand in a copy that was coherent and clean, I needed at least a week for editing purposes. My group members had no problem handing things in a half an hour before they were due. One half hour to edit a 100 page document. Not happening. I lost marks because of them. When I told the instructor what was going on, she simply said that I needed to work around it. No help given at all. I was ready to quit school over that one.

The last incident involved an instructor I once had great respect for. Other people complained, but I thought they were wonderful. Until I asked a question. Now, I’ve lectured at the University of Alberta for 10 years as a guest lecturer. People will ask all kinds of questions. There’s no malice, just curiosity. Let me give you some history on this instructor. This married instructor, the prior year, had intimate relations with a student who was in his class at the time. That’s not a problem. Goes on at the U of A all the time. However, this instructor and student then published a paper online justifying their affair.

You can hear the brakes screeching on this one, can’t you.

I won’t link the paper because I have no desire to name this instructor publically. I’m sure my fellow students from Grant MacEwan will know who I mean, but that doesn’t matter. It was a very public event. The paper was poorly written and was so self-serving as to work against the authors. It was a case of “methinks she doth protest too much”. In other words, they knew what they were doing was wrong but they did it anyways. They’re adults. They can take responsiblity for their own actions, thank you very much.

I had no idea about any of this. I had an assignment in which the instructions were poorly given (I was not the only person who suffered a low grade because they misunderstood the assignment). I protested my grade, as was my right, and said I hated the assignment. I did. I’m allowed to say that. Over the next 10 or so emails, I was berated and left to believe I was a horrible person and student. This instructor made it very clear in the first class that if they didn’t like you, you would fail. I wasn’t sure what I’d done to warrant this instructor’s wrath, but I wasn’t going to fail on account of their ego. Back to the office where their solution was to put me in the online course. Fantastic. I felt like I was punished for what my instructor did. It still makes me cry to think about it.

If it hadn’t been for the school counsellor I would have slipped some pills long before. I was that much on edge constantly. My fellow students noticed and avoided me. I don’t blame them. You can’t hang around with someone who’s liable to burst into tears at any moment. At this point in my writing I have to point out I’m crying so much it’s hard to see the screen. Yes, it still hurts that much.

My plan upon graduation was to find a position doing technical writing for a software firm (I really enjoy that stuff). Or maybe work doing tech writing for an oilfield or engineering firm. Instead, I was broken and battered from my time at Grant MacEwan and the firms saw it. I readjusted my vision for myself and am now working temporary in various positions while I sell my writing.

What has been the effect of all of this? Sadly, I want very little to do with my fellow writers. The only thing Grant MacEwan taught me is that writers are people whose own lack of belief in themselves makes them hurt those they should be helping. I know, logically, this is actually the exception, but it is a lesson I learned very well from Grant MacEwan.

I wish I’d gone to the University of Alberta.

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