Jan 1, 2007, 10:07 PM
Post #120 of 764
Re: [Glinda Bamboo] More notes on the fiction MFA
Two quick notes (which partly reproduce a longer mini-essay I just wrote in the comments section of the rankings post on my blog):
1. I absolutely agree that rankings should be used, not abused, and used as just one resource among many, not as the only resource a prospective MFA student turns to. I also think rankings derive most of their value from the extent to which they measure "hard" data; The Kealey Scale includes, among its sixteen criteria, at least eight which are "hard" data points not really open to dispute (I'll list more than eight here, because some of these fall under the catch-all "other/miscellaneous" criterion): program size, duration, student-to-faculty ratio, availability of one-on-one tutorials, funding scheme, flexibility of degree requirements, course workload, teaching workload, teaching opportunities, focus on literature versus creative writing (as measured by the program's degree requirements), the presence of an MFA-affiliated literary journal on-campus, in-state tuition availability, and the employment of community outreach programs by the school. The other eight data points in The Kealey Scale are definitely "soft," but really no more so than either a) the existing (but now out-dated) 1997 MFA rankings done by U.S. News & World Report, or b) the sort of amateur research any one of us could do, on our own, to investigate MFA programs (e.g., calling up current/former students, attending a single workshop session [if the program allowed us to], e-mailing a professor, taking a brief tour of the school). All of these seemingly foolproof means of divining whether a school is right for us are really inherently flawed, because they're every bit as "human" and therefore fallible as the consensus-driven data Kealey and U.S. News both employed in their respective valuations.
2. I can't emphasize this enough: location was not a major factor in the rankings. It was listed first because it is, in fact, the most important consideration to prospective MFA students, according to Kealey; that does not mean he weighted it the most. In fact, in the system I developed it receives minimal weight, coming into play only in the presence of a "consensus" about a location (which is rare in itself), and even then, it only bumps a school up or down a couple spots. Anyone wanting to "undo" the location aspect of this ranking need simply bump a school up or down three to five spots based upon their own preferences--which is not to say, of course, that anyone should take the specific numerical rankings as gospel, anyway (as always, one looks at rankings, typically, in terms of "tiers"--such as, the first twenty schools, the second twenty, the next twenty, and so on--so even bumping a school up or down will probably keep it "in tier" but just, at most, remove it from your consideration). Keep in mind, disagreeing with a location "consensus" is no different than disagreeing with any other form of consensus, such as the "consensus" reputation scores used by U.S. News in 1997 in formulating the entirety of its rankings (not just one of sixteen criteria, as in The Kealey Scale). So, to the extent no one really batted an eyelash when we were told, in 1997, that the University of Arizona had a much better academic reputation than Brown University--something which, absent the rankings, we might have been very surprised to hear--it's really the same situation here; if a location assessment doesn't make sense to you, or you disagree with it, adjust the rankings accordingly. As a lawyer, I feel rankings are a lot like, say, written contracts: people don't know it, but under many circumstances you can actually write on a contract (crossing some things out and adding others) before you return it to the person who sent it to you, thus initiating a "counter-offer." The offerer can then do the same, and return the contract to you, and so on and so forth, until you reach an agreement. In other words, something's not necessarily sacrosanct just because someone sent it to you in writing. A contract sent to you is an "offer," as we say in the law. Just so, rankings: you can write on them and move schools up and move schools down, however you like, and thereby use the rankings simply as a resource--a sort of jumping-off point--for your own analyses. That's certainly the smart way to do things, anyhow!