Ed note: Here's the letter Matt Burriesci, Acting Executive Director of The Association of Wrtiers & Writing Programs sent to Poets and Writers objecting to the recent MFA rankings. If you agree with Matt, why not send a letter highlighting the same points ([email protected]):
Poets & Writers
90 Broad St, Suite 2100
New York, NY 10004
cc: Elliot Figman, Executive Director
October 26, 2009
Dear Ms. Gannon:
I have the greatest respect for Poets & Writers, which is why I was so disappointed to see Seth Abramson’s opinion survey of MFA programs in your November/December issue. The tutelage of an artist is a complex and serious business, and it cannot be reduced to a single spreadsheet column sorted in descending order. Abramson himself seems to concede this point before proceeding. But even if one could squeeze this universe into one question, from a statistical standpoint, Abramson’s methodology would still be flawed.
The cover headline referring to the article proclaims, “The Top 50 MFA Programs,” which itself is incorrect. Abramson’s piece is not a ranking or comparison of all MFA programs, but of residential programs, and only those residential programs in the United States. Missing in this analysis altogether are the dozens of low-residency and international programs.
The sample audience Abramson used in his survey consists of 500 self-identified applicants to MFA programs. Applicants to MFA programs are only one of the key stakeholders in the success of MFA programs. Other stakeholders include faculty, administrators, current students, the professional association that represents them (AWP), and alumni. Abramson is correct to point out the problems with previous ranking efforts, but he falls victim to the same sins of omission and reduction committed in those attempts. This particular sampled audience, while interesting, does have its own set of biases in assessing MFA programs. Some may prefer to be admitted to a high-profile program, while others may be unaware of their full range of options.
It’s also an unrepresentative sample. There are more than 13,000 applicants to MFA programs each year. If we ask less than 4% of them to tell us their opinions about MFA programs, we will arrive at what Abramson produces: the opinion of this 4% of applicants of 75% of MFA programs. If you drill down, more questions are raised about the data. No demographic information appears to have been collected. We don’t know, for example, if there’s an appropriate geographical, gender, ethnic, and age variety in the sample. These factors do make a significant difference in the preference of applicants.
read the complete letter here.