Once again, Poets and Writers Magazine has published creative writing MFA/Phd program rankings that are based on a poll of would-be applicants to such programs who visit a blog. Clearly P&W doesn't let its ethics get in the way of perpetuating a scam to boost circulation. After three years of seeing these rankings gain traction, nearly 200 MFA/Phd-program teachers and administrators, led by Robert Pinsky, Leslie Epstein, and Erin Belieu, have lodged a protest, in the form of an open letter (reproduced here by Dan Nester) to P&W that cites many of the same reasons for objecting to the rankings that we have noted here, here, and here since they were first published in 2009.
Here are a few of my thoughts on this mess:
Poets & Writers has entrusted the task of the rankings to a blogger/poet who has no credentials as a research scientist and who is not disinterested in the outcome: For each year of the rankings he has been enrolled in one of the programs that is being ranked. This fact alone should disqualify him for the job.
In attempting to shore up its phony methodology, P&W wastes a lot of ink on why other rankings fall short. This is like saying my poem is good because yours is bad.
P&W is wrong to assert that a scientific ranking of MFA programs is not possible. A ranking is possible, though to construct it properly would require time, money, and commitment, resources that might be better spent elsewhere. The underlying data, if collected by a reputable research firm, under the auspices of the Association of Writers & Writing Programs and with the cooperation of its members, could establish a ranking that would give MFA/Phd applicants valuable information to guide their decisions about graduate programs.
Many of the signatories to the open letter are affiliated with our most prestigious universities. To lend more depth and credibility to their criticism, they should ask a member of a social science research department to review the ranking methodology and comment on its soundness. A first-year graduate student could do this in an afternoon; the outcome would underscore the extent to which P& W is flouting its responsibility to its readers.
The MFA programs should immediately pull their advertisements from P&W. Why continue to support a publication that is so lacking in journalistic integrity?