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."
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."
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.