Jan 4, 2007, 7:26 PM
Post #163 of 764
Re: [umass76] My Fiction Rankings
Understand that what I call deranged is the instinct to write over 1500 words to try to prove that one's preferences are mathematically unreliable and, in fact, biased. But here I go with my own verbose reply. I would hope that our fellow posters humor us for just a few more minutes of this fine intellectual jousting match.
You fail to address either of the main points of my reply. But first to your assessment of my assessment of your assessment of my assessment of your assessment of Tom Kealey's assessment of graduate writing programs. Yes, my rankings certainly should betray my biases. They reveal what I perceive to be the quality of each program, and how I value the variables that go into such perceptions. An illustration of this point: I believe that Michigan and Washington in St. Louis are both top-tier programs; however, I rank Michigan higher because I think they have a much better faculty. Now, if I hated everything that Peter Ho Davies and Michael Byers had written, and believed their awards were given because of some bias, I then might find Washington's fine faculty to be more appealing, and perhaps rank its program higher. Many people who've posted on this website would agree that even faculty is a subjective variable (Whom do I like, whom do I not?).
Certainly, funding can be interpreted as a subjective variable. In fact, most people make a completely subjective evaluation of their ability to pay for college. There are folks who are financially capable of paying for a Columbia MFA, or who are willing to accrue that magnitude of debt, and then there is me; I say it could not possibly be worth it. However, if I were a millionaire, I would probably apply to Columbia, because I'm convinced it is a top-ten program. The point is, whether a program can be seen as good or bad based upon how much money they have is completely unfair, and it's a big cause of my disdain for the idiotic rankings published by my heroes at USNWR every year.
As for the USNWR methodology, thank you for sharing more about that process. To tell you the truth, I would probably have asked each creative writing person to judge programs on a scale of one to four stars. That's how many of my favorite film critics judge the movies I may or may not see, so it's a quality scale I understand well. A letter grading system may be even more simple and true, though those surveyed would likely feel obligated to give too many schools an A- or B+. But I don't believe that these people are a bunch of idiots--I'll bet they understood that they were being asked about a general reputation for excellence--and I'm sure they could decide for themselves who deserves a 5, Iowa or Iowa State.
I'm not sure what is won by obsessing over our three lists with mathematical fervor, as it misses the point entirely. You're certain that demonstrating a greater mathematical likeness between my list and yours relegates the USNWR list into the hall of shame, yet you fail to take several things into consideration. First, there are in fact 16 schools in my top twenty that are in USNWR's as well as Kealey's. You were wrong about this, a principal part of your argument, and you must acknowledge it. Second, several of the programs that we studied for our lists did not exist, or were just beginning, in the mid-90s. This doesn't necessarily scare me away from the USNWR list, because I can approximate where, say, Illinois's program may be ranked today, and they still got many things right that you did not (Iowa, Columbia, Arizona, BGSU, Southern Illinois, etc.). It does, however, explain any mathematical closeness that more current lists, yours and mine, would share. Third, the priority you give to some programs that clearly don't deserve it (UC Irvine, again!) and the penalty given to others (Iowa, Columbia, Arizona) based, as far as I can tell, on how you've assessed my money situation, is completely irrational and goes a long way towards explaining my preference for the '97 list.
I want to reiterate that I do not believe that my list is the final word on things. Rather, I would expect anyone reading my list to acknowledge USNWR's as the gold standard. I hope you'll accept the silver. I'll just take the bronze. Now, whether USNWR is a suitable gold standard for us is an essential question, and it goes to the very plight of writers, that so much of our world exists in the mind and cannot be fairly or aesthetically filtered through mathematical computations onto paper. (Please excuse the bold type, which I know is very annoying in forums and emails.)
Back to your failures in addressing my reply. First, you'll have to explain to me how Tom Kealey is to be more trusted than an array of creative writing personnel. If, in fact, E.L. Doctorow or Barry Hannah or Maura Stanton or Wendell Mayo had anything to do with the USNWR survey, then I would politely reject Kealey for the larger group. Second, you'll have to convince me that asking the same broad question that can be applied to all programs is not as good as asking a set of sixteen questions, some which can be answered for more prominent programs and some which can't be answered for smaller ones. I know the faculty at Indiana very well, and each member has a massive knowledge of obscure programs across the country, having spent much time reading about each other, visiting for readings, meeting at conferences, following former classmates to their destinations in life, and so on.
The chief point of my argument is that the opinion of fellow creative writing people is important to me, as I'm hoping for success in that field. Tell me the top twenty programs by reputation, and I'll sift through them for the ones I can afford, for the name of a faculty member I admire, and for the locations I find desirable. I'm afraid that your own--more, what's the word, precise?--rankings missed some of the things those creative writing experts were already able to tell me, that diamonds in the rough such as Bowling Green State and Southern Illinois deserve a second look, and that truly great programs like Iowa and Columbia are not second-tier!
A correction I want to make from my previous message: There was an Illinois-Urbana program on the USNWR list, but it was an MA program. I was blinded by the fact that the MFA is the terminal degree which I pursue.
(This post was edited by jargreen on Jan 4, 2007, 7:30 PM)