Creative Writing Profs Dispute Their Ranking–No, the Entire Notion of Ranking!

mfa Creative Writing Profs Dispute Their Ranking  No, the Entire Notion of Ranking!Almost 200 creative writing professors have signed an open letter to Poets & Writers, criticizing its 2012 rankings of MFA/PhD programs. Poets & Writers is the bi-monthly magazine of the non-profit organization of the same name.

According to a statement attached to the letter, Poets & Writers first offense is that it does not take into account a program faculty’s reputation (reputation being the only thing a university or a career in creative writing have to offer anyway).

The rankings are based on polls of prospective creative writing program students about where they’re planning to apply, as well as the scholarship and financial aid money the schools offer.

“It’s analogous to asking people who are standing outside a restaurant studying the menu how they liked the food,” said Leslie Epstein, novelist and Boston University program director.

“If the Poets & Writers list were entitled ‘MFA Programs Most Frequently Applied to by Readers of One Blog’ that would be accurate. I’m puzzled that Poets & Writers, a fine publication, continues to publish this misleading list,” said Deborah Landau, a poet who is unlikely to win the Jackson Prize this year.

It’s perhaps not surprising tensions are high. Poets & Writers, the journal of author interviews and prize application deadlines, is mostly circulated among creative writing students and professors that make up the list. However, most of the top ten programs are represented among the undersigned.

Full letter below.

 

AN OPEN LETTER FROM CREATIVE WRITING FACULTY REGARDING THE POETS & WRITERS PROGRAM RANKINGS

The people who have signed this letter have all taught as creative writing program faculty. Many of us are now program directors and serve as members of our admissions committees. Most of us also hold MFA and/or doctoral degrees. We hope our collective experience and expertise will provide good counsel to anyone thinking about applying to writing programs.

To put it plainly, the Poets & Writers rankings are bad: they are methodologically specious in the extreme and quite misleading. A biased opinion poll—based on a tiny, self-selecting survey of potential program applicants—provides poor information. Poets & Writers itself includes on its website a disclaimer suggesting the limitations of these rankings, recommending that potential applicants look beyond them. Regrettably, the information appears on a separate page.

What’s worse, if a program decides against encouraging a bad process by choosing not to provide information, P&W’s process insists on including that program as though the information was negative, a procedure we think is unethical, as well as statistically misleading. The P&W rankings, in their language and approach, labor to create the impression that the application process between applicants and programs is adversarial. It is not, as any proper, sensible survey of MFA students and alumni would indicate.
Instead of asking such students and alumni about quality of instruction, or anything else about actual program content, P&W’s rankings are heavily skewed toward viewing a program’s financial aid offer as the final arbiter of that program’s overall quality. We agree that financial aid must be a serious consideration, but a student’s relationship with his or her faculty—what and how one learns—is at least equally as important.

In economic times like these, there is no immediate correspondence between any degree and employment. This is particularly true of the MFA in creative writing and PhD in English with a creative dissertation. While we work hard to help our graduates find jobs, it is essential to understand that creative writing for the vast majority is not a profession. Some writers earn their living as teachers, but others are lawyers, full-time homemakers, doctors, editors, business owners, sales clerks, and mechanics. No applicant should consider pursuing a creative writing degree assuming the credential itself leads to an academic job. And no applicant should put her or himself in financial peril in order to pursue the degree.

Our best advice is to do your research through the programs you’re considering. If you are able to visit those programs, ask to sit in on classes and for the contact information of current and recent students. Talk to people you respect about different programs. Read work by the instructors.

Most programs have basic academic and financial information available on their websites. But don’t hesitate to ask questions of the program directors, admissions committee members, and students presently attending the programs. This kind of commonsensical research will help you find a program suited to your hopes and talents.

Sincerely,

Jonathan Aaron, Emerson College
Lee K. Abbott, Ohio State University
Jonis Agee, University of Nebraska – Lincoln
Marla Akin, University of Texas Michener Center for Writers
Julianna Baggott, Florida State University
Sally Ball, Arizona State University
Aliki Barnstone, University of Missouri – Columbia
Steven Barthelme, University of Southern Mississippi
Jocelyn Bartkevicius, University of Central Florida
Robin Behn, University of Alabama
Erin Belieu, Florida State University
Karen E. Bender, University of North Carolina Wilmington
April Bernard, Skidmore College
Mark Bibbins, The New School
Mary Biddinger, The University of Akron
Scott Blackwood, Roosevelt University
Robert Boswell, University of Houston
David Bosworth, University of Washington
Mark Brazaitis, West Virginia University
Lucie Brock-Broido, Columbia University
Ben Brooks, Emerson College
John Gregory Brown, Sweet Briar College
Andrea Hollander Budy, Lyon College
Janet Burroway, Florida State University
Robert Olen Butler, Florida State University
Sarah Shun-Lien Bynum, University of California, San Diego
Scott Cairns, University of Missouri – Columbia
Kara Candito, University of Wisconsin – Platteville
Kevin Canty, University of Montana at Missoula
Mary Carroll-Hackett, Longwood University
Michelle Carter, San Francisco State University
Alexander Chee, Columbia University
Alan Cheuse, George Mason University
Jeanne E. Clark, California State University Chico
Brian Clements, Western Connecticut State University
Mick Cochrane, Canisius College
Michael Collier, University of Maryland
Gillian Conoley, Sonoma State University
Bob Cowser, St. Lawrence University
Jennine Capó Crucet, Florida State University
Kelly Daniels, Augustana College
R. H. W. Dillard, Hollins University
Chitra Divakaruni, University of Houston
Jim Dodge, Humboldt State University
Timothy Donnelly, Columbia University
Michael Dumanis, Cleveland State University
Camille Dungy, San Francisco State University
Karl Elder, Lakeland College
Leslie Epstein, Boston University
Elaine Equi, New York University
David Everett, Johns Hopkins University
Kathy Fagan, Ohio State University
Andrew Feld, University of Washington
Elizabeth Stuckey-French, Florida State University
Ned Stuckey-French, Florida State University
Forrest Gander, Brown University
Eric Gansworth, Canisius College
Steve Garrison, University of Central Oklahoma
Maria Gillan, Binghamton University, State University of New York
Michele Glazer, Portland State University
Tod Goldberg, University of California, Riverside Palm Desert
Eric Goodman, Miami University of Ohio
Jaimy Gordon, Western Michigan University
Carol Guerrero-Murphy, Adams State College
Corrinne Clegg Hales, California State University, Fresno
Rachel Hall, State University of New York at Geneseo
Barbara Hamby, Florida State University
Cathryn Hankla, Hollins University
James Harms, West Virginia University
Charles Hartman, Connecticut College
Yona Harvey, Carnegie Mellon University
Ehud Havazelet, University of Oregon
Steve Heller, Antioch University Los Angeles
Robin Hemley, University of Iowa
DeWitt Henry, Emerson College
Michelle Herman, Ohio State University
Laraine Herring, Yavapai College
Sue Hertz, University of New Hampshire
Tony Hoagland, University of Houston
Janet Holmes, Boise State University
Garrett Hongo, University of Oregon
Ha Jin, Boston University
Arnold Johnston, Western Michigan University
Diana Joseph, Minnesota State University, Mankato
Laura Kasischke, University of Michigan
Catherine Kasper, University of Texas at San Antonio
J. Kastely, University of Houston
Richard Katrovas, Western Michigan University
Christopher Kennedy, Syracuse University
Richard Kenney, University of Washington
David Keplinger, American University
James Kimbrell, Florida State University
David Kirby, Florida State University
Binnie Kirshenbaum, Columbia University
Karen Kovacik, Indiana University – Purdue University Indianapolis
Stephen Kuusisto, Syracuse University
Deborah Landau, New York University
Jeanne Larsen, Hollins University
David Lehman, The New School
Dana Levin, Santa Fe University of Art and Design
Lisa Lewis, Oklahoma State University
Catherine Lewis, Purchase College, State University of New York
Samuel Ligon, Eastern Washington University
Robert Lopez, The New School
Denise Low, Haskell Indian Nations
Kirsten Lunstrum, Purchase College, State University of New York
Patrick Madden, Brigham Young University
Megan Marshall, Emerson College
Michael Martone, University of Alabama
Cate Marvin, College of Staten Island, The City University of New York
Gail Mazur, Emerson College
Janet McAdams, Kenyon College
Shara McCallum, Bucknell University
Karen Salyer McElmurray, Georgia College & State University
Heather McHugh, University of Washington
Sarah Messer, University of North Carolina Wilmington
Jennifer Militello, River Valley Community College
Wayne Miller, University of Central Missouri
Debra Monroe, Texas State University
Dinty W. Moore, Ohio University
Brian Morton, Sarah Lawrence College
Rick Mulkey, Converse College
Brighde Mullins, University of Southern California
Antonya Nelson, University of Houston
Ian Blake Newhem, Rockland Community College, State University of New York
Thisbe Nissen, Western Michigan University
Daniel Orozco, University of Idaho
Pamela Painter, Emerson College
Alan Michael Parker, Davidson College
Jeff Parker, University of Tampa
Oliver de la Paz, Western Washington University
Donna de la Perriere, San Francisco State University
Joyce Peseroff, University of Massachusetts Boston
Todd James Pierce, California Polytechnic State University
Robert Pinsky, Boston University
Kevin Prufer, University of Houston
Imad Rahman, Cleveland State University
Ladette Randolph, Emerson College
Marthe Reed, University of Louisiana Lafayette
Nelly Reifler, Sarah Lawrence College
Frederick Reiken, Emerson College
Paisley Rekdal, University of Utah
R. Clay Reynolds, University of Texas at Dallas
Kathryn Rhett, Gettysburg College
David Rivard, University of New Hampshire
Richard Robbins, Minnesota State University, Mankato
Mary F. Rockcastle, Hamline University
Robin Romm, New Mexico State University
Michael Ryan, University of California, Irvine
Benjamin Alíre Sáenz, University of Texas at El Paso
Martha Serpas, University of Houston
Bob Shacochis, Florida State University
Brenda Shaughnessy, New York University
Aurelie Sheehan, University of Arizona
David Shields, University of Washington
John Skoyles, Emerson College
Tom Sleigh, Hunter College
Casey Smith, Corcoran College of Art and Design
Maya Sonenberg, University of Washington
Gregory Spatz, Eastern Washington University
Brent Spencer, Creighton University
Sheryl St. Germain, Chatham University
Les Standiford, Florida International University
Domenic Stansberry, Vermont College
Thom Tammaro, Minnesota State University Moorhead
Alexandra Teague, University of Idaho
Daniel Tobin, Emerson College
Mark Todd, Western State College
Ann Townsend, Denison University
Peter Turchi, Arizona State University
Paul Vangelisti, Otis College of Art & Design
Sidney Wade, University of Florida
Jerald Walker, Emerson College
Rosanna Warren, Boston University
Laura Lee Washburn, Pittsburg State University
Joshua Weiner, University of Maryland
Lesley Wheeler, Washington and Lee University
Richard Wiley, University of Nevada, Las Vegas
Ann Joslin Williams, University of New Hampshire
David Wojahn, Virginia Commonwealth University
Gregory Wolfe, Seattle Pacific University
C.D. Wright, Brown University
Robert Wrigley, University of Idaho
Steve Yarbrough, Emerson College
Stephen Yenser, University of California, Los Angeles
C. Dale Young, Warren Wilson College
Matthew Zapruder, University of California, Riverside Palm Desert
Lisa Zeidner, Rutgers-Camden, The State University of New Jersey
Alan Ziegler, Columbia University
Leni Zumas, Portland State University

Comments

  1. Anonymous says:

    i can’t believe this ,I just got a $829.99 iPad2 for only $103.37 and my mom got a $1499.99 HDTV for only $251.92, they are both coming with USPS tomorrow. I would be an idiot to ever pay full retail prices at places like Walmart or Bestbuy. I sold a 37″ HDTV to my boss for $600 that I only paid $78.24 for. I use http://xub.me/ab

  2. Ah yes, I love Poets and Writers, but that list is definitely misleading. I’m glad it’s being disputed. 

  3. DeborahZike says:

    I have a Master s degree in creative writing from San Francisco State University. I never found my niche in the academic world but it has helped me immeasurably throughout my life. I do not regret this one bit.

  4. anonymous says:

    I came from an undergraduate writing program that signed this letter and I’m now in an MFA program that signed this letter. I can say that no one I personally know on this list has the slightest idea of what goes on in the online applicant community and the wealth of help that comes from it. The letter’s statement is partly ignorant and partly repetitive of what Seth himself posts on his site and in community forums. The numerical ranking reflects specific data that is not hidden. Neither Seth nor anyone else in the community recommends applying to only the top 10 programs. No one states that a program that is higher up is necessarily better per applicant. The community almost unanimously supports a well-rounded approach to application choices and illuminates the realities of actually attending an MFA program (cost of relocation, fees, housing, etc.). And yes, many current members of MFA cohorts participate in the community and give applicants information about the programs they attend. This community is a resource that has never been available to the world of creative writers, and these professors wish to return to an age of magical thinking. I think it’s a show trial.

  5. Anonymous says:

    I did my MFA at a “top ranked” program not a signatory to the list above, and while I gained a great deal from the program, found like-minded peers, wonderful mentors, and more, I also experienced workshops with “famous” poets who never once wrote a single comment on a student’s work, nor it appeared, even read the work save to give it a quick look over right before class. I also experienced a program where specious behavior on the part of faculty led to many uncomfortable moments due to the budding romance between faculty and workshop member. More than this, the prestigious post-graduate openings were filled by cronyism and nepotism. Still, I loved my time in the program because I found my voice. 

  6. Trish H says:

    These Professors may be upset about the rankings, but they are exceptionally helpful to those of us planning on applying to an MFA programs. I’m sorry if they are upset by someone attempting to do something helpful for a pool of prospective applicants, but maybe if they would give us a clearer picture instead of the run around, we wouldn’t need someone to do their job for them. 

    1. ... says:

      The list is exceptionally helpful for those programs, but what about the newer, lesser known programs not ranked in the top 50?  How are they to compete when hardly anyone looks at anything other than the top 50 or so?

    2. G.S. says:

      I never got the run-around when I applied to MFA programs in the pre-Seth days. It’s this sort of comment that makes me wonder what this cult-like following of Abramson is really all about. I can’t see how it’s possibly based on sound reasoning or an understanding of statistics.

      1. Marvin Clonkey says:

        You never got the runaround when you applied to an educational institution!? Good Lord, what year did you go to school, 1920? I worked in advertising, and with the exception of government and healthcare, no industry was more difficult to navigate or more fickle and vague with its communications than higher education. 
        I would like to do a P&W ranking of the 50 shittiest CW MFA program websites. And by the way, I consider myself as qualified as anyone because I spent an entire season last year poring over them.God bless Seth Abramson and Tom Kealey and the Creative Writing MFA Blog and P&W.

  7. A.S. says:

    As someone who applied to MFA programs in 2010 and will apply again this year, I must say that I find them immensely helpful. I’ve seen rankings set up this way before, ordered by the votes received, and I always take that into consideration–ultimately, the responsibility to fully research each program falls on my shoulders. The rankings are not what make my decision about where to apply. They’re a starting point, and they’re a great reference as well for information that would take days to compile if I had to search each program’s website myself (funding, cohort size, length, etc). Several schools to which I will apply this year are represented on the list of protestors, but they are schools I may never have considered if not for the rankings.

  8. Jonathan says:

    While 200 faculty members sounds like a lot, this list does NOT represent a majority percentage of the faculty members and/or schools who offer MFAs, though it does also include faculty from some schools that don’t offer MFAs at all. I think it’s also worth noting that one faculty member’s signature is not, I believe, meant to be representative of an entire program’s institutional stance. So no “programs” signed this list, only individuals.

    Also, I’ll just come out and say I’ve found the MFA rankings EXTREMELY helpful and informative, and while I don’t think they should ever form the only or final basis for an MFA decision, I’m grateful to P&W for publishing them. 

    1. ... says:

      I believe the title mentions “Faculty” not “Programs”.  The publishing of these rankings is useless; more could be achieved by merely printing the programs in alphabetical order, rather than some flawed ranking.  Also, the programs outside of the top 50 are held at a disadvantage, even though they are probably good programs.  How many students have ignored the 100th (or any school not in the top 50) ranked school because it isn’t in Seth’s elite group?

  9. Tom says:

    The P&W list is helpful to a great extent in that it’s one-stop-shopping for finding information about funding, size and teaching load. Many in the applicant pool know that this list is not the final word but a comprehensive and valuable resource. If professors and program administrators want to be a little more open and proactive about their program’s style, the best place in this day and age would be to throw interviews, workshops or lectures on a medium like “youtube.” Three programs that pique my  interest, Wyoming, Iowa and North Carolina at Wilmington, have utilized this approach.

  10. Guest says:

    Personally, I’m highly relieved to find that none of the faculty at the MFA program at which I am currently a candidate signed this letter.  Yes, Seth’s methodology is flawed.  Yes, it’s incomplete.  Yes, it’s absolutely ridiculous to base rankings upon how many people apply to said programs.  But it’s what we have.  I know when I applied to programs, I utilized some of the resources he provides, but used those resources as a jumping off point for my own research/contacts.  If an MFA applicant is stupid enough to just look at Seth’s list and say, “I’m applying to these 10 because they’re the top 10,” then that person is too stupid to get into a program anyway.  If nothing else, the signatories of this letter exercised extraordinarily bad PR.  Seth’s stuff is flawed, but it’s all we have.  The things applicants are most concerned about are often not the same things faculty are concerned about, so making a contact with a faculty member at a given program may not be enough to provide an applicant a full picture.  Everyone focuses on Seth’s rankings system, but what about the fact that he provides a comprehensive list of programs to begin with?  What about the response data, the application information, etc.?  My suggestions would be: 1) that applicants are intelligent enough to take the data with a large grain of salt, but take full advantage of the resources Seth provides as a jumping-off point for their own research; and 2) MFA faculty such as the above signatories make a better effort at reaching out to prospective candidates to provide them with valid information about their programs.

  11. Anonymous says:

    I feel bad for the people here that think this letter from people that teach in some of the most successful MFA programs in the country is “partly ignorant,” or that the rankings are “exceptionally helpful.”  If all you really think is helpful about the rankings is “one-stop-shopping for . . . information about funding, size and teaching load” then why does Poets & Writers pretend the rankings are statistically relevant.  The numerical rankings reflect an egregious merely fashionable approach, and if that is not clear to you I suggest a statistics course may be more helpful to you than an MFA.  Certainly a statistics course would be helpful to the people at Poets & Writers.   

    The people who signed this letter definitely are not ignorant about the application process to MFA program, or what MFA programs are like.  They have considerably more knowledge and experience about MFA programs than what is accounted for in the Poets & Writers rankings.  By not asking the opinion of people working in MFA programs, or MFA students and graduates themselves the rankings do themselves an immeasurable disservice.  If you’re worried about ending up in a program with “‘famous’ poets who never once [write] a single comment on a student’s work” then contact a current or former student in the program to find out what the program is really like before you go there; and if the program won’t put you in touch with any students then I would say that’s a pretty good signal to move on.  

    I can unequivocally say that this letter does certainly reflect the sentiments of the majority of people who teaching in MFA programs.  If you doubt that assertion your welcome to contact the programs yourself and find out, and while your on the phone it’s probably be a good idea to ask about things like community, something that is statistically unquantifiable and way more important than funding.

    1. Patrick says:

      Not saying that I entirely disagree with the letter, but it’s easy to say that community is more important than funding when you’re not some poor student who has to pay for it. Unfortunately, that’s not the world we live in and funding is incredibly important for graduate school in any field. Personally, I think many MFA programs exist simply to make money off people who love the art of writing and simply want to study it and they leave these programs having not had a single professor help them in any way. I was lucky to have a couple professors who did help. But I know many people who had the other experience. Therefore, any information gathered about programs is helpful, especially when they talk about funding.

  12. Anonymous says:

    What an odd approach to admit the “methodology is flawed.  Yes, it’s incomplete.  Yes, it’s absolutely ridiculous to base rankings upon how many people apply to said programs.  But it’s what we have.”  Because a system is poorly designed and executed, and it’s currently the only system available, why would you resign yourself to accepting that system?  Why not demand a better system, which is partially what these professors seem to be asking of Poets & Writers.  The better question is why doesn’t Poets & Writers oblige them?  What does Poets & Writers have to gain by publishing statistically irrelevant rankings?

  13. Anonymous says:

    Poets & Writers doesn’t care about publishing statistically relevant rankings because Poets & Writers cares more about selling magazines, and from what I can tell the organizer of the flawed data cares more about promoting himself and his services than giving MFA students an fully accurate picture of the programs.  

  14. Kat L says:

    As a student newly enrolled in an MFA program, as of this fall, I have to speak in defense of the rankings. Although I agree with the letter, that it would be responsible of P&W to clearly acknowledge the limitations of the rankings on the same pages they’re presented on on their website and in the magazine, I cannot overemphasize how valuable I find the information compiled within the rankings. When I applied for MFA programs in the fall of 2010, I found all of the raw data compiled within the rankings an invaluable resource. While I personally have no interest in the popularity of each program with upcoming applicants (one of the major criteria in the current ranking process), information about, among other things, selectivity, cost of living in the programs’ areas, and — above all — funding were an indispensable springboard for my research into each program to which I considered applying.

    Though I agree that speaking to current students and reading the work of faculty members is an excellent step in the research process, I value the information gathered in the rankings because it gave me a starting place to figure out the potential logistics of each program. No matter how much I admire the work of writers on faculty at various universities (hey there, NYU), the sad facts are that I am a twenty-something going into a field with zero job security and minimal prospects, and have another sixty years of my life to worry about student loans and my credit score. Because programs are, understandably, more willing to flaunt their sterling faculties than, for example, their often complicated financial aid situations (and with budget slashing at state universities, I can’t say that I blame them), it is hard to find this information elsewhere. And, as an applicant, this is information I cannot live without.

    I agree that no applicant should base his or her application decisions entirely off of the list, and that individually researching each program is a vital step of the application process. I agree that P&W should consider more clearly stipulating the limitations of the rankings when they print them. It seems to me, even, that the rankings could possibly be repackaged into a less competitive form — perhaps just a comprehensive list of programs, including all of the raw information gathered in the current rankings. But as a former MFA applicant, as a current MFA candidate, and as a student whose concerns range from the super-concrete (will I be living in my 2003 Corolla for thirty years as I pay off my student loans?) to the sublime (literature! in the end this is all about literature, right?), I applaud the current rankings for making as much information as possible available for applicants, so that they can apply to programs that will be the best match for them. And whether or not this information could conceivably be packaged in a different form or otherwise reshuffled, I commend and personally thank P&W for making it all available to the people who need it, in the best form in which it currently exists.

  15. Gerard Smith says:

    There’s nothing wrong with MFA or  fine art Phd programs but nothing magic either.  Writers should write and if finding help through University programs are right for them then they belong in those programs, which can be enormously helpful.  I look on the programs as education not as job training.. 

  16. Guest says:

    It seems to me that Poets & Writers  does the prospective pool of MFA candidates a favor by publishing tables of information about MFA funding, selectivity, student-faculty ratio, etc.  They could do more.  They could say something about the graduate population of the schools, the academic requirements, etc. 

    The sad and, I believe, deeply cynical fact is that they’ve chosen to put together a ranking of the so-called “Best” programs (complete with a ridiculous “Honorable Mention” list).  This is, of course, reductive, inaccurate, and superfluous.  I’m sure it sells MOUNTAINS of copies of Poets & Writers –despite the fact that the right MFA choice is highly personal and depends very much on sensibility, needs, and background.

    Moreover, a recent study (published in, I think, The Atlantic?) showed how bankrupt all these college rankings are.  In that magazine, a group of statisticians showed that by merely tweaking the importance of one category in the US News & World Report college rankings — say “student-faculty ratio” or “job placement” or etc. — they managed to completely reshuffle the ranking of schools.  That is, if student A finds student-faculty ratio to be highly important and student B feels more strongly about job placement, their “personalized” (i.e. re-weighted) rankings will be totally different.  The statisticians conclusion was that the exercise was largely arbitrary and, more than that, destructive.

    The same thing holds here: these rankings discourage actual research (i.e reading work by the faculty, talking to current students, etc), they reduce good data to arbitrary conclusions, and they are self-fulfilling — i.e. the “top” programs will receive more applications because they are listed as top programs, further cementing their position as top programs.  Ditto for the “bottom” programs.

    And I can assure you: I have yet to meet a single professor in any MFA program who thinks these rankings are anything but hogwash. 

    Reading the new issue of Poets & Writers, I found myself half wishing for it the same fate that befell U.S. News & World Report.  And that’s too bad.  It has been a historical good publication, one that still provides some valuable services to writers.

  17. Mike G. says:

    I’m not sure about Seth Abramson’s methodology, which probably can be improved, and on some level I don’t care. There are dozens of programs I would never have known about and never have considered if it weren’t for Seth’s hard work and ability to expose me to them. Rankings aside, just having a sense of a school’s teaching load, available funding, and the geographic area’s expense for a student has been invaluable in my decision-making, not the only variables, but crucial ones nonetheless. So, I thank Seth for doing the work that laid the foundation for me, work I’d never have had the time to do myself. Regardless of the outcome, Seth has helped possibly thousands who are grateful for this one-stop start for all they might not have even considered. Improvements can be made, but isn’t that true for so much program research? Ending the rankings all together seems like–to use a cliche–throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

    1. A. Belano says:

      Mike, I think it’s the baby that’s made the bathwater so bad.

      The rankings are the problem, not the information. You could still have a list with information without the misleading and deeply flawed methodology, the flaws of which are so eloquently described in the letter. I mean, the very starting point is completely ludicrous: Why would you factor in program applicants about programs, when they themselves have never even been in them? The methodology described by Mr. Abramson: “a combination of hard data from programs that release funding and
      admissions figures to the public and a vital survey of
      what the individuals comprising the next generation of U.S. poets and
      writers
      have to say about their own priorities in choosing a postgraduate
      program” is completely problematic and skewed–it’s equivalent to asking someone about to eat in a restaurant how their meal was, then making a ranking system of it that you somehow convince an otherwise reputable magazine to publish.

      As an MFA graduate and a published and working writer, I’ve followed Mr. Abramson’s longwinded posts and rankings for maybe seven years now, on and off. I would, in a second, place my trust in these ~200 creative writing professors over him, with or without the backing of Poets & Writers, or the odd, accountability-dodging byline “staff.” And I feel bad for the people (some of which appear to be lurking on this comment thread with suspiciously similar talking points and writing styles) who wouldn’t.

  18. Pinkie says:

    Why would an applicant not want to know a prospective program’s admission rate or level of funding? Is this information “specious” and “misleading” as the open letter states? Or is it objectionable because it is unflattering to programs that do not fund their students?

    The open letter criticizes the P&W ranking for subjectivity (based on its unscientific polling) and then suggests MFA hopefuls use other subjective criteria. Is this consistent? The undersigned suggest applicants appraise quality through direct questioning of program directors, admissions committees, and current students. This advice is implausible for most selective programs. What busy program director has time to answer questions from hundreds of potential applicants? And how transparent, exactly, is the admissions committee? I still don’t know which individuals chose to accept me into my MFA program. Current students? Good luck. Program directors and current students are excellent resources for people who have already received an offer of admission, not for those who are just kinda sorta thinking about applying.

    Much of the advice given in the open letter is impractical, if well-meaning. Some programs actively discourage prospective applicants from visiting; their admissions rates are too low. Even an applicant flush with travel funds will not find it possible to visit a dozen or more programs before making decisions about where to apply. Which programs welcome random visits? My program never allowed anyone without an offer of admission to sit in on a workshop, and why should they have? Anyone interested in a selective program has no recourse but to rely on objective data such as admissions rates and funding, as well as second-hand information that might amount to a feeling about reputation.

    A major objection to this ranking is its failure to take personal factors into account. That must be an objection to any ranking, of any sort, because no ranking can tell anyone which professor will best suit his work and temperament. However, I find the open letter naive in its insistence that potential applicants can select for personalities as one selects for objective data. My favorite MFA professor was not even employed by my university until I was half-way through my degree. And while I read the work of many MFA professors before applying, but that doesn’t mean they read my application with any pleasure. Admiration is not always mutual.

    I am not a booster for P&W’s ranking system. Even after reading numerous justifications, I am baffled by the choice to base the official rankings on an online poll rather than on data such as selectivity. In my opinion, more selective programs should be ranked more highly than less selective ones, but the current system seems to reward name recognition more highly than any other data point. I also share the concern that the poll will become self-confirming. Yet, even if P&W’s current ranking system is flawed, at least it discloses a plethora of useful and objective data. All this noise about the rankings being “bad”, “unethical”, “misleading”, and “specious in the extreme” strikes me as bombast. Critics might take a closer look at what the application process is like for prospective students before insisting that it is harmful to collate data about funding and selectivity rates.

    I attended a program with excellent funding and very low selectivity. I was able to gain admission through applying to a large number of selective programs in the hopes that my work would resonate with two or three committees. I relied on data to choose my targeted programs. It’s nonsensical to suggest that I instead should have traveled to all 13 of the programs I eventually applied to, not to mention the additional programs I would have crossed off my list. It’s nonsensical to suggest that I should have demanded to speak to 13 or more program directors in an attempt to feel out a program style for each one. And it’s nonsensical to suggest that I should have read hundreds of novels and short story collections during my application year so that I could be intimately familiar with the work of those teaching at my targeted MFA programs.

    The open letter ignores how many applicants most funded programs receive. I am left with the impression that it has been at least a decade or two since most of the undersigned applied for an MFA program. They do not seem to have a realistic understanding of the current process, not from an applicant’s point of view.

    1. G.S. says:

      There were far fewer programs when many of the signers applied, so it getting into MFA programs was extremely competitive then, just as it is now. These writer-teachers are hardly naive. I like much of what Pinkie says–yes, the ranking are based on name recognition (and I’ll add that Abramson provides no evidence that those polled have a good understanding of the quality of the programs)–but  people had been successfully applying to MFA programs for decades before these ridiculous rankings came along. Regardless of what Seth Abramson claims “most” applicants want from programs (which he has no way of knowing because of the way he gathers his “data” about these people), almost everyone I knew who was applying looked most closely at two factors: the faculty and the alumni. I don’t know anyone who regretted focusing on either. That doesn’t mean that no one does; it just means that I can’t easily conclude that Seth is as wise about MFA programs or their potential applicants as he thinks he is.

  19. Anonymous says:

    So much of the praise for the rankings has to do with the data used to tabulate them, which, I agree, is valuable. It’s important to know about a program’s size, funding, etc.  If people keep saying that they’re more interested in this data than the actual rankings, why are the rankings themselves valuable? Are people just not admitting that they care who’s on top?

    1. ... says:

      Some of the data is fine (size and funding), but students applying for grad programs are going to focus in on rankings.  And what about the programs ranked at the bottom?  Why even consider them?  If they simply list, rather than rank, it would force the students to do more research on things like faculty, funding details, etc.  And to last sentence: I don’t think many people care who’s on top, especially since the methods used to collect the data were poorly conceived and attained.

  20. singaporean says:

    Without these rankings, and the MFA Handbook, I would not have known of MFA programs, period. These are an invaluable resource for international MFA applicants. Applicants already take the rankings with a pinch of salt and many apply to a spread of highly-ranked, not-so-highly ranked AND unranked schools to boost their chances. This makes the rankings free publicity for all schools that provide enough basic information to Seth to qualify for the list. I don’t see what’s so horrible about free publicity that 200 professors think it threatens their profession.

    1. ... says:

      Giving free publicity to the top 50 programs hurts those not in the elite.  How many students say: “Man, I’m going to the 110th ranked school!”  They don’t.  Only an alphabetical list is needed, no need to add rankings.  Seth ranking writing programs only helps him.

      1. Guest says:

        Re: last sentence. How, exactly? Doesn’t seem like these sorts of attacks would be any fun, does it?

      2. ... says:

        One would assume that he didn’t go into this thinking he would be attacked.  I’m sure he thought the rankings were a good idea, and that perhaps it would catch on (see: US News & World Report and their special “rankings” editions).  But most people disagree with the rankings.  Nonetheless, in some ways it has made a name for himself, albeit not in the fashion he envisioned.  I’m sure there are plenty of prospective students who will still fork out money to buy the issue of P&W, leading to my question (a question only Seth and P&W can answer): was Seth paid?  If he was, then it helps him.  Yes?

      3. Anonymous says:

        Seth is a nice guy and I believe his intentions are genuinely good. He and I had a discussion in the comments of a post I made last year about his 2010 rankings, and he was kind and respectful. He is entitled to be paid for this work.

        I’ve subscribed to P&W since high school. I’m 26 now. It’s been invaluable to my growth as a writer. Including an MFA section is sure to sell copies, and I have no problem with that, because I’m all about making sure they have the cash they need to stay robust. But I don’t think they need to rank the programs in order to sell copies. Applicants are hungry for all sorts of information. 

      4. ... says:

        I’m not saying that I dislike Seth and I can believe his intentions were good, I was merely pointing out to the Guest commenter that Seth did benefit (making money in this case) for writing the rankings.  I still believe the rankings are pointless and misleading; that they hurt other programs not in his elite top 50 list.  The whole rankings thing is a gimmick–just list the programs in alphabetical order.

    2. G.S. says:

      I don’t see any indication in the letter that the signers think the rankings threaten their profession. Rather, they’re more concerned that pseudo-science is being passed off as containing scientific merit (though the rankings’ creator is a bit inconsistent on that point, the scientific value of his system varying depending on which Web site posting you read).

  21. Guest says:

    Agree with Elissa Washuta– 
    I have not heard a SINGLE convincing argument for the rankings themselves–.  I am only convinced that more information is worthwhile.  The rankings are clearly misleading and irresponsible and (I suppose) designed to sell magazines.  Even those defending the rankings don’t defend them — they just say the accompanying data helped them in their search. 

    Perhaps defenders secretly like the rankings because they help them feel good about otherwise uninformed choices?  Or perhaps they don’t really think much of the rankings but, for some reason, don’t say so.

    Who knows?

    Blah.

  22. Pinkie says:

    The advice to applicants in the “open letter” falls somewhere between naive and disingenuous. Only programs actively looking to increase their number of applicants are going to be as forthcoming as the letter pretends is standard. Applicants with an offer of admission can visit programs, query program directors, sit in on workshops. This is not the case for prospective applicants, except maybe at Podunk U. or at a program that offers such disadvantageous financial terms that even accepted students are reluctant to sign on. 
    paragraph
    There is no compelling argument against disclosing selectivity data and funding information. I’m less concerned with the nebulous “fellowship-placement rate” or the mutable data about teaching loads. But applicants need to know if they are applying to a school that accepts 1 out 3 applicants or 1 out of 300. They need to know if an acceptance will mean paying $50,000 a year or being paid $25,000. One could argue that this information is disclosed on MFA websites. If so, what is so “misleading” and “unethical” about collating it? Maybe UMASS-Amherst doesn’t want a funding rank of 43 published, but unless they can claim the information is incorrect, then, well, that’s their funding rank. It doesn’t mean UMASS-Amherst doesn’t have a stellar MFA program, or that it might not offer a good funding package to any particular applicant, but it’s apparently not offering a high level of funding to all. If funding is of prime importance, take note. If it’s not, who cares?
    paragraph
    I’m amenable to the argument that an overall ranking is pointless and somewhat arbitrary. Iowa is ranked as the top program because it has been around the longest and more people know about it. Period. Many programs are more selective than Iowa or offer better funding. And like at any MFA program, the professors at Iowa may or may not be ideal for any individual’s development as a writer. Does Iowa truly deserve a number one ranking? One reason they have more applicants is because they accept so many applicants. 
    paragraph
    However, there have been few nuanced arguments for or against the rankings. There are either overblown diatribes against them or uncritical acceptance of a ranking system that rewards name recognition over other data points. I wouldn’t go as far as to say the overall rankings are irresponsible, but I find them somewhat arbitrary and self-fulfilling. After all, most people voting in the poll will have already been influenced by the opinions of the poll’s creator. Most are probably readers of Seth Abramson’s personal blog and readers of the MFA blog where he is a contributor. While I believe that Abramson most fervently believes his methods are impartial, I see no evidence that he seeks to remove the effect of his own influential opinions from the rankings. Much of Abramson’s advice seems both fair and pragmatic, but, like any individual, he is prone to biases. 
    paragraph
    If P&W published future rankings based only on data such as selectivity or funding, then I wonder if they would remain controversial. I find the overall ranking to be unnecessary, though it might be useful to instead group programs into tiers. 

    1. Anonymous says:

      About the lack of transparency when it comes to funding: I agree that it’s really terrible that more information isn’t available to prospective students, who do need to know this information, but as someone who works at University of Washington (NOT for the creative writing MFA program–I am with a different department), I can say that our budget situation right now is changing so often that I assume that graduate funding is in a state of constant uncertainty, as all of our departmental budgets have received various types of cuts and are always waiting to hear about more rounds of cuts. I doubt that many of these programs know what their funding will look like in the future with any certainty.

      1. Pinkie says:

        What about offering a general funding picture though? For example: “Our tuition is $3500 a semester, and we can generally offer tuition reimbursement and an $10000 stipend to teaching assistants. Last year, half of our students were offered positions as teaching assistants, and we hope to be able to fund 50% of our incoming students for 2012 with teaching assistantships.”

        Is there some reason programs can’t be more straightforward about budget fluctuations? Funding was important to me, so I applied only to programs that offered some combination of fellowships or teaching assistantships. I didn’t need to know what the exact offer would be in advance, only that it was not a program that expected most of its students to go into debt. I was in no position to go into debt for an unmarketable degree. 

      2. Anonymous says:

        First off, I just want to say that I absolutely agree that this is information that students DO need to know. I just want to let you know, from my perspective within a university, why it might not be possible to say these days, when university budgets are in flux.

        In my experience with my non-CW department, the reason could be that the department just might not even know what could happen in the next year. Graduate funding can come from multiple sources, not just the department’s own budget, like the graduate school, even outside donors, and when some of those don’t come through, that obviously upsets the funding.

        What a program like this could and should really say, I believe, is that a student who comes to this school should not count on funding. I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect every school to put numbers on their funding plans, but I think it’s reasonable to say that funding is in flux, present past numbers and say that future numbers are up in the air. That will let prospective students know that if they need a promise of funding, they need to perhaps look elsewhere.

  23. ... says:

    There is no need to “rank” programs, merely publish a list of all the programs alphabetically.  Include all the “data” used to “rank” these programs.  Let the student decide without the influence of these meaningless “rankings”.

  24. anonymous says:

    Let us admit—like the poem, story or essay you may be
    working on—that Seth Abramson’s MFA ranking methodology is imperfect.

     

    Let us admit that any attempt to gloss the merits and
    criticisms of one writing program over another is—like work-shopping that poem,
    story or essay—bound to be imperfect.

     

    Let us concede that in times of crippling debt, not all
    literary mentorships, no matter how beautiful and promising, are necessarily worth
    going into debt for.

     

    Let us concede that even if money shouldn’t matter, sometimes
    it does; that some writers—no matter how idealistic their hopes and intentions—cannot
    afford to think otherwise.

     

    Let us admit that anyone who says otherwise may be speaking
    from a position of privilege that is no longer a realistically attainable
    position, no matter how many books one will publish. 

     

    Or maybe not.

     

    Let us imagine that Seth Abramson is not trying to create
    specious rankings. Let us imagine that he imagines his motives are altruistic. That
    he is not twisting his evil mustache plotting ways to undermine
    MFA programs. 

     

    Let us consider the possibility that if a MFA program contends
    that choosing an MFA should not be about the money, and if that same MFA
    program then contests Seth Abramson’s rankings in part because of how those
    rankings might effect enrollments—is that concern not in fact about
    the money?

     

    Let us consider the hope of academic discourse—that it
    is rooted in inquiry, is ongoing, strives to be respectful, intelligent, reasonable…

     

    Let us consider that Seth Abramson’s rankings may be
    part of a larger conversation very much worth having, that we should approach
    that conversation mindfully, humbly, with the best of intentions, with reasonable
    doubts for own positions…

     

    How rich and surprising this conversation would
    be, given the talents of its audience…

     

    Let us not approach this conversation defensively…

     

    Let us not approach this conversation in an effort
    to silence it—with petitions or name calling, or with the threat, as rumor has
    it, of certain MFA programs removing valuable advertising funds from Poets & Writers, a journal that in
    theory should be devoted to just such a conversation…

     

    If, as rumor has it, certain MFA programs threaten
    to remove valuable advertising funds from Poets
    & Writers, then it certainly looks
    like this is about the money, and if so, can there be
    more honesty about this?

     

    And let us not broker in rumor, which is a little like choosing a restaurant for someone said about the meal as opposed to the price.  Let us broker in facts,
    which is what Seth Abramson’s rankings hope to offer in part—in terms of what a
    school actually (as opposed to theoretically) costs, in terms of what a school
    actually funds its students…

     

    Let us admit that neither Seth Abramson nor the
    collective everyone that signed “AN OPEN LETTER FROM CREATIVE WRITING FACULTY
    REGARDING THE POETS & WRITERS PROGRAM RANKINGS” has this thing figured out…
    That we never will.  That that’s the whole point of a conversation…

    1. BoomersMustDie says:

      Don’t bother doing an MFA, you can’t write or think for shit

  25. BoomersMustDie says:

    Does anyone else find Seth’s prose completely unreadable? Why doesn’t he use paragraphs – don’t they teach that at TOP RANKED MFA program IOWA and TOP RANKED PhD PROGRAM UWisc? He’s living proof of how shitty his rankings are.

    1. Marvin Clonkey says:

      What a completely spurious correlation, not to mention an ass-wipe thing to say. 

      Spend some time on Seth’s blog. There is no place on earth that offers as much data and insight into the enigmatic world of MFA programs.

      1. BoomersMustDie says:

        Correlation doesn’t mean what you think it does; Seth’s data is as flawed as your reasoning, and the only thing spurious I can see is your assumption that I’m not familiar with his bloviations.

      2. Marvin Clonkey says:

        Seth’s data is both hard data from schools (good luck finding a lot of this on your own) and soft data from kids applying to the programs. Whether or not you like his fiction or poetry has fuck to do with what?

      3. BoomersMustDie says:

        Maybe you haven’t taken a math class since junior high. (Lucky you) Soft data + hard data = soft data. And even Seth’s “hard” data is questionable, e.g. doesn’t it seem misleading to compare admission rates with schools that accept five people with those that accept ninety? Seth cherry-picks his data, for instance he ignores yield, which measures how many accepted students take the slots they are offered. 

        If PW’s ‘soft-data’ reputation metric is flimsy and his hard data is incomplete, don’t you think a creating a ranking system that uses it seems arbitrary at best, and willfully misleading at worst?If you want data about a school, email their admissions office. If you don’t like what you hear then go elsewhere. Seth is a poet, and when I used the word prose I meant to exclude his creative work. I haven’t read his poems (not sure that he writes fiction). What I have read are his articles in P&W, his articles on Creative-Writing-MFA-Handbook and his responses to commentators (i.e. bloviations). Seth – like many trained lawyers – is like an octopus, when threatened he tends to regurgitate masses of convoluted, misleading nitpicking ink.His financial aid awareness kick is noble, but even there he’s telling you half the story. Do we ever read about income-based repayment schemes or public service loan-forgiveness from Creative-Writing or P&W?

      4. Marvin Clonkey says:

        If UT gets 1,400 applicants and accepts 12, and Cornell gets 600 applicants and accepts 5, how is publishing that both schools have a .8% acceptance rate misleading?

        I don’t know about Seth cherry-picking data, either. How would he measure yield? How do you even find that information?

        And let me get your argument straight. You would like P&W’s ranking, which you think is arbitrary and misleading, to go away. In its place, you’d like prospective students to simply email admissions? Isn’t that the problem and the very reason Seth started his crusade to begin with? To make CW programs accountable?

        I think, at the end of the day, you’re advocating a deeper understanding of the creative writing program landscape, which I totally agree with. I just think Seth would agree, too. The P&W ranking was never meant to replace prospective applicants’ first-hand research and gut instinct. But it’s a really good first step.

      5. BoomersMustDie says:

        At the end of the day I am agreeing with the professors’ letter. Seth – as you put it – wants to be a crusader, which is fine; the problem is that he is portraying himself as an impartial arbitrator by releasing rankings that “prove” his crusading using extremely flawed data. It is NOT a good first step.

        re: yield, without knowing how many students a class needs to accept to fill their slots, acceptance is pretty meaningless… and is an example of cherrypicked data

        Yield is provided by a school, if you cannot get it, then don’t use ranking as a metric

        Do you see why all of this is misleading?

      6. Guest says:

        Yes, it’s misleading — if you never read the methodology article. People generally do when they’re going to post a ton about a ranking system online. The M.A. consistently refers to the acceptance rates as “yield-exclusive.” No one — no one — is being misled. 

      7. BoomersMustDie says:

        Acceptance rates without yield are misleading, whether you include it in tiny print on a different page or not.

      8. Sandy says:

        If you hate batman, you hate America.

      9. Jason says:

        Only an idiot who relies 100% on these rankings is being misled. The rankings that Seth does are a great barometer.  Seth is the batman of the MFA world. 

      10. Pinkie says:

        Most programs do not disclose yield. That’s likely why Abramson does not take it into consideration. Is it “misleading” to compare selectivity rates for small versus large programs? Possibly. The rate accepted may be the same, but one will receive more applications than the other. 

        It’s petulant for you to critique Abramson’s verbose style when you include redundancies such as “trained lawyer” in your own prose. 

      11. BoomersMustDie says:

        If Seth can’t get an accurate measure of admit rate, then why use it at all?

        Seth has a JD but does not practice law, and I don’t think he passed the bar

      12. Guest says:

        He practiced for seven years and is still a member of the New Hampshire Bar and the Federal Bar for the District of New Hampshire.

      13. BoomersMustDie says:

        And as we all know, being a member of the New Hampshire bar is *the* crucial credential for statistical analysis. What were his LSATS/GPA?

      14. Guest says:

        Hell, Google him and you’ll see he was winning first-degree murder trials as recently as 2006. Do you do your homework on *anything*?

      15. BoomersMustDie says:

        Thank you, Seth. You have a remarkable talent for argument. Perhaps you should have stayed a public defender

  26. Garrett says:

    This whole thing is looking really bad for Poets & Writers. You have a list of some of the most revered and respected writers and professors in the country publicly questioning their journalistic ethics in publishing these rankings; you have people posting disparaging comments about the magazine all of over the internet, Facebook and Twitter; you have people canceling their subscriptions, encouraging MFA Programs to withdraw their advertisements, and publicly condemning them, and now you even have The Chronicle of Higher Education (not to mention the many lit blogs)  directing their readers to this controversy. When is Poets & Writers going to realize it’s just not worth it to sacrifice their reputation over these rankings. I don’t care how many issues they sell; this thing is going to have long term ramifications.

    1. Pinkie says:

      Nonsense. I dare say some of the undersigned teach at universities that do not even have MFA programs. Why are they inserting themselves into this “controversy”? What do they have to gain or lose? 

      Seth Abramson offends because he tells prospective applicants to go to funded programs. This is not good for unfunded programs; it devalues them. Many of the complainants seem to represent unfunded programs, though some well-funded programs are also represented. The advice to applicants in the letter is wholly unrealistic. Prudent applicants cannot choose programs based on nebulous ideas about the “best” teachers. Applicants cannot visit and interrogate to find out where the “best” teachers are before applying. And why is it assumed that the incredibly well-funded and selective programs in the top ten would have incompetent professors anyway? Is the argument that the top programs (the funded ones) only employ drunks and jackasses while the unranked programs have Pulitzer-winning panels? Why is this set up as dichotomous? Is it not possible that selective and well-funded programs offer a superior experience, or at least one on par with an expensive unranked program? The letter implies that students who attend selective and funded programs are likely to have an inferior experience. It’s an unfounded and somewhat irrational assertion. 

      I do think Abramson needs to come up with a better ranking system. Ranking by the presumed number of applications is not meaningful, especially when he has influence over the group polled. If the letter had made a lucid complaint about that aspect, I would be in full support of it. 

      1. G.S. says:

        The letter in no way implies that “those who attend selective and funded programs are likely to have an inferior experience.” In fact, many of the signers ATTENDED well-funded and selective programs (e.g., Elizabeth Stucky-French, who earned her MFA at Iowa–a well regarded and well published fiction writer). Don’t read into the letter what isn’t there. 

      2. G.S. says:

        P.S. I’ll add that when Ms. Stucky-French attended Iowa, that MFA program provided only partial funding, but she was one of the students who received some of that funding. (If you go to Florida State’s MFA Web site, you’ll see that she was a Michener Fellow while she was at Iowa.)   -G.S.

  27. knott says:

    there must be some credibility to this list, considering that the MFA where I taught had its rank boosted dramatically after it dumped me from the faculty—

    1. knott says:

      i mean, they got that right, at least—

  28. Marvin Clonkey says:

    I’m curious how the P&W’s ranking is misleading. Kealey’s book, which I don’t see being attacked, pretty much parallels Seth’s findings. Is Iowa not consistently among the most respected writing schools in the country? Does UT not offer the highest funding package? Isn’t it nice to know at a glance that Brooklyn College isn’t CGSR compliant? What about just knowing that U Miss. fully funds all of its students?

    And doesn’t every ranking, list and piece of advice come with a giant fucking asterisk that says FIND OUT FOR YOURSELF. The first sentence of P&W’s ranking tells us, This is what the next generation of US poets and writers have to say about their priorities in choosing an MFA program.

    A monkey could understand the extreme value of a survey like this. And the only reason the survey exists is because the programs themselves refuse to easily (or often at all) convey the simplest, and yet most critical, information. If I go to your school, what can I expect in terms of funding? How hard is it to get in? How much teaching will I have to do?

    I’m flabbergasted at the vacuum of intelligence in this letter, and I hope that it doesn’t so much represent the programs’ belief, but 200 misguided, misinformed or otherwise confused profs. The P&W rankings are the first step in a long, lonely and extremely difficult path to an MFA program application strategy. They are not, and were never meant to be, used as a one-stop guide for potential writing students. That I even have to say that is disturbing.

    1. BoomersMustDie says:

      If the above 200 professors are “misguided, misinformed or otherwise confused,” thenplease refute the following:
      “[T]he Poets & Writers rankings are bad: they are methodologically specious in the extreme and quite misleading. A biased opinion poll—based on a tiny, self-selecting survey of potential program applicants—provides poor information.” 

      and this:

      “If a program decides against encouraging a bad process by choosing not to provide information, P&W’s process insists on including that program as though the information was negative, a procedure we think is unethical, as well as statistically misleading. The P&W rankings, in their language and approach, labor to create the impression that the application process between applicants and programs is adversarial. It is not, as any proper, sensible survey of MFA students and alumni would indicate.”

      and this:

      “Most programs have basic academic and financial information available on their websites”

      1. Anonymous says:

        “Most programs have basic academic and financial information available on their websites”

        Yes–and as a university staff member I’d like to add–I believe some people who have contributed to this discussion have faulted faculty members for not being helpful enough when it comes to connecting with prospective students. I don’t know whether faculty members are expected to do that or not, but I will say that every program probably has at least one staff person associated with it who can answer applicants’ questions. Judy at UW is the most helpful adviser I could have ever asked for, and she is great at fielding applicant questions, too. Staff members are a great resource–faculty have a lot on their plates and sometimes can’t field applicant questions, I assume, but staff are there to help the students before and during (and sometimes after) their time in the program.

      2. Marvin Clonkey says:

        I never applied to UW, but that’s nice to hear.

      3. Marvin Clonkey says:

        A methodologically sound ranking is impossible, first and foremost, because most of the MFA programs simply won’t release the data! The P&W ranking is *admittedly* based on opinions and statistics that are often incomplete, but it is not based on poor information; it’s based on the best information available. For God’s sake.

        Per your second quote, I don’t know that missing information is necessarily treated as a negative. How I understand it, it’s more that if, for example, a program doesn’t disclose its funding information it’s not going to “rank” as well as a program that does. What does a program gain by withholding information, and why shouldn’t applicants discriminate against that program, at least extemporaneously.

        The third quote, unless by “most” they mean 51%, is not true. And most of the programs that do disclose necessary academic and financial information do a piss-poor job of conveying that information, IMO.Like I said earlier, I’m curious to know how the rankings are “bad” and “misleading.” Which programs have ended up looking worse or better than they really are, and why?

      4. BoomersMustDie says:

        a) It is absolutely possible to create a poll that uses independent data. USNews did this with MFA prorgams in 1996, and Gallup and their ilk do it every day. Bad, biased information is worse than no information. Would you rather I told you the wrong way to turn at an intersection rather than admitting I didn’t know?

        b) Unless the professors are lying, then PW must be treating no information as negative.

        c) See “A biased opinion poll—based on a tiny, self-selecting survey of potential program applicants—provides poor information.”  And if you have a question about a program then email them!

  29. Yep. says:

    This is one of those things where people bitch n’ moan about how something isn’t perfect and then don’t offer a better, more workable alternative. There’s only one list. There should be more than one list. The fact that it’s all down to one guy, Seth, who is held personally accountable for it all, is an embarrassment. Complaining about it isn’t solving the problem.