Poets & Writers magazine will cease publication of the so-called ranking of MFA programs.

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Poets & Writers magazine will cease publication of the so-called ranking of MFA programs.

This was posted on Best American Poetry on April 1st. Is it an April Fool’s joke? I wish I knew.

The MFA programs and AWP have been critical for years of Seth Abramson’s methods which involve ranking the MFA programs by taking polls online of prospective people who would like to attend these programs. Many MFA program directors believe that the rankings are not helpful in recruiting potential writers. I’ve never been too wound up in the whole controversy because I think that you should choose an MFA program based on the faculty, not the rankings.
The question is whether this is for real or is it a very odd joke?

“Upon receiving an audit report from the International Association of Survey Research Scientists, Poets & Writers magazine will cease publication of the so-called ranking of MFA programs. The rankings had become a fall staple of the magazine. “We’ve come to recognize that the rankings are not just misleading, they’re harmful,” Jason Terry, a P&W senior director said. “What can I say? We have egg on our face. We regret that they may have influenced MFA program applicants to spend money on applying to programs for which they were ill-suited.”
The audit was undertaken on the IASRS’s own initiative. Senior Research Analyst Melanie Cornbluth. (PhD, JD, MBA) explained that the audit was difficult to conduct because, “Poets & Writers had none of the raw underlying data we typically examine. They could not produce the qualifications of the research team. They had no demographic information on those who responded to survey questions so it is impossible to tell how age, geographic location, marital status, income, and such may have influenced one’s reasons for applying to one program over another. We had our job cut out for us.”

Though the IASR report was two years in the making, the findings were never in doubt. Raj Singh (MStat), the senior analyst in charge of examining the data, said, “On the one hand, they made my job very easy! Everyone knows that a publication should never, never report findings of click-on Web surveys. These pseudo-polls all suffer from the same problem: the individuals choose themselves to take part in the poll. And in this particular case, one had to go through hoops to participate,” by which he meant that they had to join Facebook and find their way to particular page and apply to be admitted to a group. “I tried to get in,” says Singh, “just so I could have a look at what they’re doing. No luck.”

According to Singh, self-selected surveys by definition do not represent the target population. “There is no way that the ranking reflects the opinions of the full community of MFA hopefuls. And who made the cockamamie decision to rely solely on the opinions of those who have never set foot in an MFA classroom to evaluate MFA programs? No serious editorial enterprise should have touched this so-called research with a ten-foot pole.”

For a survey to be credible, every member of the population under study must have an equal chance to participate. “To begin with,” says Singh, “It is well documented that Facebook use is in decline among the under-30 set. An already corrupt process would become more so going forward.”

Despite the flaws, the rankings were taken seriously by gullible applicants. Alex Pawlowski, an MFA student who left a lucrative job as a financial analyst in Manhattan to attend a highly ranked program in the mid-west, regrets the move, which he says was spurred by the rankings. “I should have stayed in NYC,” says Pawlowski. “I could have kept my job and gotten an MFA.”

The ranking’s sole measure of a program’s success at job placement is whether graduates find teaching positions. “But I never wanted to teach,” says Elon Yousefzadeh. “I began my MFA program working in arts administration and that’s where I’ve stayed.” Yousefzadeh attended a full-time program in NYC that conducts classes at night, making it possible for working students to keep their jobs. “My program doesn’t even appear at the top half of the ranking yet I know it is highly competitive and highly regarded nation-wide.”

MFA program heads around the country expressed their satisfaction in P & W’s decision to drop the controversial rankings. “It is always heartening and a little unexpected when an organization does the right thing,” said Peter Wrigley of Comiskey College in Chicago. BFU’s Jeanne Moreau, a tireless critic of the rankings system, said she believes her efforts were vindicated.

It’s no secret that we’ve objected to the ranking from the start. We’re delighted that P & W has come to the recognition that the ranking issue caused more harm than could possibly be justified by the wished-for publicity, even bad publicity, that helps sell copies of magazines.”

Is this for real? I wish someone at P and W would speak up and tell us.

Good times so far at the London Book Fair. We had pub food last night. What I really want is Indian food.


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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. No, not for real, but a very sharp critique of some really, really bad methodology.
    If you want Indian food in London, head to Drummond Street (closest tube stop is Euston). Lots of great ones there.

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