HENNIKER, N.H. (AP) – New England College is suing the former director of its poetry master’s degree program, alleging that she lured faculty and students away from the school in order to re-create the program in New Jersey.

Six faculty from New England College’s small master’s program have left Henniker for Drew University, where poet Anne Marie Macari now works. According to the lawsuit, enrollment also has fallen from 10 to five students this year.

New England College started its “low-residency” master’s in poetry program in 2001, allowing students to do much of their coursework at home and come to campus for short periods each year. A college spokeswoman said it was the only program in the country that offered a master’s degree exclusively for poetry rather than combining it with other writing.

“We believe that (our master’s) program has a national distinction,” said Kathleen Williams. “To start a similar program at a similar institution … would seriously jeopardize our program. That is why we too legal action.”

The lawsuit, filed in federal court, seeks compensation for lost tuition, the $33,000 salary it paid Macari and an order barring Macari from keeping her new job for two years. It likely will come down to the question of whether Macari partnered with Drew University and duplicate the NEC program on her own time or while she still worked in New Hampshire.

“The employer is paying for something, and if the employee is not honoring her commitments and is working to bring assets and resources to a competitor, the employer is not getting what it paid for,” said Peter Callaghan, a Concord employment lawyer not involved in the case.

Macari declined to comment about the case to the Concord Monitor. In court documents, she said she collaborated with Drew prior to working there but doesn’t make clear whether she had left New England College by then.

Macari, who lives in New Jersey, was hired by New England College in 2002 as an adjunct faculty member. She was named interim director of the poetry program in March 2007. According to the lawsuit, she began neglecting her duties to recruit and enroll students about three months later and began “secretly developing” a virtually identical master’s program for Drew University.

In February, Macari told New England College that she was quitting. Five days later, she announced that she and Gerald Stern, another poetry faculty member who also is Macari’s partner, were starting a similar program at Drew.

As a reassurance, she said Drew wouldn’t start its program until January 2009. Drew University has asked the court to dismiss the case or to transfer it to New Jersey’s federal court.

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