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Dec 31, 2006, 1:09 AM

Post #101 of 764 (24609 views)
Re: [umass76] KEALEY RANKS 'EM! [In reply to] Can't Post

NEW 2006 MFA rankings now available (The Kealey Scale):


Please note that these are NOT the 1997 U.S. News and World Report Rankings.

This is the first new ranking of the Top 50 MFA programs in nine years.

Also please note that I have used Tom Kealey's methodology and observations as a resource and a guide. These rankings do not in any way reflect my personal opinions and I have attempted to acknowledge this by classifying these new rankings as "The Kealey Scale" for MFA programs.


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Dec 31, 2006, 1:48 AM

Post #102 of 764 (24602 views)
Re: [umass76] KEALEY RANKS 'EM! [In reply to] Can't Post

The thing I can't understand about the UC Irvine program, and the reason I stayed far away from it, is that it looks as though there's only one or two fiction profs. Tell me I'm very wrong!


Dec 31, 2006, 2:02 AM

Post #103 of 764 (24601 views)
Re: [jargreen] KEALEY RANKS 'EM! [In reply to] Can't Post

Hi! All I can tell you, friend, is that I'm a [usually poorly-informed] poet, not a fiction-writer, and even *I* had the impression (pre-Kealey!) that U.C.-Irvine was primarily known for its fiction program, not for its poetry department(!) In fact, and this is no insult intended to the program (I simply didn't know much about its poetry department, I'm sure it's excellent), I've *only* heard U.C.-Irvine discussed as a top program in areas other than poetry. So it must be something else in fiction! [And, of course, it must have much to offer in poetry as well, else it wouldn't enjoy the reputation it clearly does].


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Dec 31, 2006, 4:50 AM

Post #104 of 764 (24586 views)
More notes on the fiction MFA [In reply to] Can't Post

Thanks for the great information, umass76! I also recommend buying Kealey's book (http://www.amazon.com/...?ie=UTF8&s=books).

I'd like to offer some notes from my two years' obsession with the fiction MFA.

This program is less than five years old, which may explain its lack of exposure. It is three years of $17K stipend. There are seven fiction faculty members, plus all students teach.

Colorado State
The students seem very enthusiastic about - and deeply involved in - this program. Here are a couple of student-prepared guides to the program: http://www.colostate.edu/...programs/thebook.pdf, http://www.colostate.edu/...sh/programs/deal.pdf

UNC Wilmington
Not sure why this branch is always ranked lower than Greensboro. UNCW features an eight-member fiction faculy and tons of community outreach; the students organize a summer workshop for high school kids. Fun stuff.

Ohio State
For those in a hurry, this program can be wrapped up in a year and a half. A couple of really compelling writers now on faculty.

An hour from each coast, but out of the way of some of those hurricanes. Plus, David Leavitt on faculty.

Bowling Green State
I rarely hear a peep about this program among prospects, but it's highly regarded with faculties around the country. A well-funded program that gives great preparation for teaching. The director of the Indiana program, for instance, went here. (Damn, I wanted to keep this school a secret.)

Southern Illinois
Talk about a well-kept secret! Three years, fully funded, plus everyone teaches. A wonderfully structured program.

And on the down side ...

I've spoken with six graduates of this program. When asked about it, each one uses nearly the same wording: "Well, others may enjoy it, but I had a negative experience there." Eerie.

I don't understand what Kealey's saying about their faculty. All I see, in fiction, is Howard Norman.

UC Irvine
The only fiction faculty member that I know of is Michelle Latiolais. Not a great deal of variety there.

Also underwhelming fiction faculties at Penn State and Pittsburgh.

And just for gits and shiggles, here are some schools that if they offered the MFA, I'd apply today: Emory, UCLA, Boston U, Northwestern, Vanderbilt, Penn.



Dec 31, 2006, 7:44 AM

Post #105 of 764 (24581 views)
Re: [umass76] KEALEY RANKS 'EM! [In reply to] Can't Post

I think your inclusion of location “ratings” is way too subjective to be included. You could potentially include collected data from schools in regards to what they think of the location, however, I would just leave this aspect out.

Realistically, I think the best means of ranking the programs would be considering funding and reputation in a 1:1 ratio.

I also think that you need a better means of rating and comparing both of these aspects… possibly another poll? Otherwise, your new ratings seem completely superfluous.

ryan call

Dec 31, 2006, 10:52 AM

Post #106 of 764 (24564 views)
Re: [jargreen] More notes on the fiction MFA [In reply to] Can't Post





Dec 31, 2006, 12:17 PM

Post #107 of 764 (24546 views)
Re: [rpc] More notes on the fiction MFA [In reply to] Can't Post



It's a part-time evening program but it does offer what they like to call an MCW (Master of Arts in Creative Writing).

Nobody but God gets it right the first time. Everybody else has to rewrite. --attributed to Stephen King


Dec 31, 2006, 12:53 PM

Post #108 of 764 (24539 views)
Re: [umass76] KEALEY RANKS 'EM! [In reply to] Can't Post

I like the comprehensive weighting of different factors that goes into a ranking system like Kealey's and your filtering of it. Ultimately, at least in professional degree programs (law, business), it's primarily outcomes that matter. Location, faculty and funding are most important to me, but it is ultimately outcomes that matter. I can't yet think that far ahead to think of outcomes; I would just like to get into a program. I wish publication statistics of students, however, would be more available. If all the other aspects of the program come together well, students will publish. If students don't publish, then a program may not necessarily deserve its good reputation. It's art for art's sake, but if I'm making sacrifices, I like to know from precedent, at least from programs that have been around for more than 10 years. This will all change in the future since most programs have only recently started.

At this point, beggars can't be choosers. I'm rattling my tin can.


Dec 31, 2006, 1:32 PM

Post #109 of 764 (24525 views)
Re: [jargreen] More notes on the fiction MFA [In reply to] Can't Post

I thought Vanderbilt did offer the MFA, and this was the first year of it. I almost applied because the application was free for this year (again, as it was the first) but they don't give good aid.


Dec 31, 2006, 2:19 PM

Post #110 of 764 (24514 views)
Re: [v1ctorya] More notes on the fiction MFA [In reply to] Can't Post

To add to what others were saying (about Vanderbilt and Northwestern), BU actually *does* offer an MFA. It's #23, FWIW.

To ecphraticknolls: That's a good point, but remember that location was actually one of the *lowest*-weighted factors (see the Methodology section), as it's acknowledged to be a subjective one. Essentially, a school got a *very* slight bump if it had a desireable location, or a very slight hit if it did not, and "location" was only used as a factor *at all* if there was something of a consensus.

So, for instance, certain towns have "reputations" for being excellent college towns--Madison, WI; Amherst, MA; Bloomington, IN; Austin, TX, to list just a few--while other places (e.g., Houston, TX; Syracuse, NY; Baltimore, MD) have generally bad reputations. Again, however, the impact of these locations was very slight. Moreover, while schools in New York City, for instance, did get a slight bump--as, culturally, New York City is seen as being a very desireable place for a poet/writer to be--anyone who *didn't* want to be in a big city could simply, obviously, drop those NYC schools *down* a peg or two. In the Methodology section, I explained that while Kealey thinks location is the biggest consideration for prospective students--and I happen to agree with him, to an extent--he also recognizes that you can't use "location" very heavily in the rankings, as there's little consensus about which places are "elite" or "good" or "poor" or what-not.

I do think, however, that some locations have such a strong reputation that you *do* want the rankings to reflect that reputation at least to some extent, so that people who *can't afford* to go to that location and check it out say, "Hmm, apparently a lot of people out there think this is a nice/not-so-nice location." Look at it this way: I don't have the money to travel out to Madison, Wisconsin and see what it's like; is it helpful to me to know that the consensus is it's an incredible college town/city, and does Wisconsin therefore deserve to move up, say, 1-2 spots on that basis, the better to draw my attention when I start thinking about "location"? I think that's only fair.

Likewise, the "Student Publication History Reputation" is given extraordinarily little weight because it is, obviously, quite subjective, and frankly amounts mostly to "buzz" surrounding this or that school. So, again, don't be fooled just because you see a particular criteria listed; it hardly means that criteria even received a tenth of the weight of the most important criteria in the ranking: funding.

I completely understand that some folks will see the rankings and say, as some have here, "Why does Kealey say that? I don't agree with his comment about [x]." And again, that's fair; I just think that people *really* need to read the Introduction to the rankings to see what they are and are not intended to be--namely, it is acknowledged that they are extremely imperfect and unscientific. The *key*, however, is that it is indisputable they are more accurate than the rankings we currently go on, because they use those rankings as a base and then further refine their inter-school distinctions by applying thirteen other factors of consideration. As well to have some dispute with The Kealey Scale (as I'm sure some will, and that's perfectly understandable) as to remember that, for the past ten years, Columbia University has been treated as the "number four" MFA in the country when, as to the most important factor in choosing an MFA program--funding!--Columbia has almost literally given its prospective students the middle finger (seriously, go read the website; if the school's language about funding doesn't actually offend you--it certainly did me--I'd be a little surprised). Quite simply, it was crazy for Columbia to have been rewarded for stiffing all prospective students money-wise with a #4 ranking it couldn't possibly live up to, and needless to say, if it wasn't in New York City it would have been (as I said above) a couple spots lower than even where it is now.

So: I think it's great that we debate these rankings, but calling them "meaningless" or anything close to that simply makes no sense--unless we presume that the rankings we have all been secretly or not-so-secretly working off for almost a decade were "less than meaningless" (i.e., misleading, which I happen to think they may well have been).


Dec 31, 2006, 2:53 PM

Post #111 of 764 (24507 views)
Re: [umass76] More notes on the fiction MFA [In reply to] Can't Post

Did anyone apply or take a look at Texas State? I almost applied there, but had to cut down a few schools at the last minute. They seem solid.


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Dec 31, 2006, 4:14 PM

Post #112 of 764 (24486 views)
Re: [umass76] More notes on the fiction MFA [In reply to] Can't Post

Umass76, and Others,

I believe that if I hadn't concluded my own research, your rankings would have been indispensable. Kealey's book is a truly great read for the prospective MFAer.

I never understood his opinion of UC Irvine. The people make the program, and when you hire only one person for the purpose of teaching fiction, you don't have a program. Also, having intimate knowledge of the Indiana program, I would rank Michigan higher; UM has better funding and the most amazing faculty in the history of mankind.

But I'm not going to nitpick. Well, maybe a little. Overall, the rankings are very helpful and you do a great job of explaining them.

On location: I would have to agree with ecphraticknolls that location is a tough attribute to rank. We can reliably compare schools according to how much money they offer and how much their faculty has published, but location is about as personal, subjective as any part of the decision could be. New York City may offer a zillion cultural opportunities that invigorate the fledgling writer, but perhaps he'll struggle to find the comfort, isolation, and quietness to actually produce. Some people may go crazy in rural Colorado and start chopping up their families, while others will write a great book over the weekend. It probably wouldn't hurt to simply rank the programs according to all those easily measurable qualities and then leave the choice of location up to the reader.

Then again, I live in Bloomington, one of those great college towns (it's true), and I've read some postings on this website that are absurdly misguided about this place. People have actually not applied to Indiana because they've heard about lots of crime and fraternity tomfoolery on the mean streets of B-town. Well, if you hang out with frat boys, you get what you're asking for. Otherwise, this is one of the safest places in the universe; just very laid-back, liberal-minded, and tranquil; and one of the cultural meccas of the Midwest. Summary: Location is very subjective, but people who've never visited a place can be extremely ignorant about it, and may benefit from hearing a consensus view.

One additional note, on funding: If it is so important - and, to poor me, it most definitely is - then why are great programs that lay the cash right out on the table like Illinois, Bowling Green State, Minnesota, Southern Illinois, and Colorado State never given any respect? Seriously, after I apply to these places, I'm going to begin a campaign to make them better known.

A final word, he says exhaustedly: Boston University offers an MA, not an MFA. Same with UC Davis. But how'd I miss the new Vandy program? Shoot.



Dec 31, 2006, 4:40 PM

Post #113 of 764 (24478 views)
Re: [jargreen] More notes on the fiction MFA [In reply to] Can't Post


Hey, thanks for the catch on BU and Davis! I'm afraid that was my goof, not Kealey's (I've also fixed the Cincinnati entry; same problem). Please continue (all of you) to let me know if you see any other technical mistakes!

As to Illinois, Bowling Green, Minnesota, Southern Illinois, and Colorado State: good question. If I understand right, Illinois is a relatively new program still establishing itself, which is why it isn't in the Top 50 but makes the "Honorable Mention" section at the end of the Long Post on The Kealey Scale (I've now created a Short Post also, which jumps you right to the short-form rankings; hopefully this will make it easier for repeat visitors who've already read the Long Post and just need a quick refresher).

As for Minnesota, Kealey actually gives it major props: it goes from #62 in the 1997 U.S. News & World Report ranking to #20 here; likewise, while Colorado State only moves up slightly (from #50 to #47), it does still make the Top 50 ranking (no small shakes, given that there are well over 100 programs in the U.S.), and is probably ranked where it is based largely on its "Average" funding ranking. However, like you, I've heard the situation has improved, so Colorado State may deserve a bump. I'll look into it, and if the funding has improved, I'll make an "Editor's Note" via an asterisk under the ranking. I've heard similar news about the University of Arizona, though I'm not sure if it's true or not and will have to look into it.

That leaves Bowling Green and Southern Illinois: I've heard the same things you have, and I'm tempted to (and probably will) include an "Editor's Honorable Mention" notation so that these schools at least get mentioned in the rankings. I'll have to do some more research first, though; shouldn't take long. Thanks!


Dec 31, 2006, 4:53 PM

Post #114 of 764 (24476 views)
Re: [umass76] More notes on the fiction MFA [In reply to] Can't Post

Follow-up to Jargreen:

From what I can tell (re: Colorado State), they have a limited number of GTAs available which provide full tuition waiver and a stipend. Other students must resort to a) the FAFSA, and/or b) applying for in-state tuition (which can only be done for the second and subsequent years). The website (which I should mention to anyone wondering, is hugely informative) says that the school doesn't have "enough funding" to do more. This would seem to make CSU equivalent in the Funding category to, say, the University of Iowa: and keep in mind, Iowa's "Average" rating (based on the limited availability of GTAs there, and in-state tuition which is great but only accessible to second- or later-year students) caused it to drop from #1 (1997) to #13 (2006), largely because the "Elite" funding schools are top-heavy in the rankings, meaning that a school with a top reputation like Iowa suffers more for having an "Average" funding rating than a school ranked, in 1997, as CSU was, #50. Hence, Iowa slides twelve spots, but CSU manages to still jump three spots (which I'd guess is due to Faculty, Reputation/A [cf. present time], and other slightly less significant factors like its Teaching Opportunities, Association With a Top Journal, and extended Duration, which allows for more writing time). All in all, at the moment that ranking seems about right (taking into account, of course, that all of these rankings are at best rough approximations). I hope that seems like a fair and considered response to you.

Will look into SIU and BG later.


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Dec 31, 2006, 5:14 PM

Post #115 of 764 (24472 views)
Re: [umass76] More notes on the fiction MFA [In reply to] Can't Post

Umass76, you're right about the Colorado State funding. That is the one school I listed that I did not apply to, probably for that very reason. But I was blown away with the student involvement and enthusiasm for this program. I mean, these kids really seem to make this program their own.

Some quick info on the Bowling Green program: All students receive full tuition waivers, a stipend that is fairly reasonable for such an inexpensive location ($8-9K), and tons of hands-on experience with teaching and publishing the fine Mid-American Review. Those MFAers interested in teaching one day should have this school in their top tier. The greatest undergraduate writing professor I ever had went here. So did Tony Ardizzone, the former director of the MFA program at Indiana. A couple of quiet giants are currently on faculty (Wendell Mayo, Lawrence Coates).

But, unfortunately, they're not taking any more people this year. Just me, that's it. I've got to stop giving away my secrets.


Jilly Dybka

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Jan 1, 2007, 4:01 PM

Post #116 of 764 (24401 views)
Re: [umass76] KEALEY RANKS 'EM! [In reply to] Can't Post


The University of the South just started the Sewanee School of Letters MFA Program. I don't know anything about it though.

Poetry Hut Blog (poetry news)


Jan 1, 2007, 5:21 PM

Post #117 of 764 (24387 views)
Re: [umass76] More notes on the fiction MFA [In reply to] Can't Post

First I should say that it is a worthwhile thing you have done in attempting to rewrite the rankings--somebody needed to do it (and many people on this board have put up their personal choices--though none, yet, with so much work at sorting things by a set methodology). Secondly, I will say that it is a brave deed, indeed, posting it here for our persnickety and opinionated bunch to pick at. I have nothing but admiration for your project.

My pickings:

Poor Iowa! How many Pulitizer prizes and National Book Awards and happily published graduates? It seems that they have graduated so, so many good, great, and brilliant writers and yet, because of the visibility of the program, the voices of the dissatisfied workshoppers are paid so much more attention. Maybe it is the nature of literarily mided people to pay more attention to the voices of the lessers and the losers. I can see Iowa losing top-spot for funding issues, but I have nothing but admiration for their taking a lot of applicants (twenty per genre? twenty-five?) even if the cost means being forced to spread their funding thinner. (If UCI or Austin or Cornell or any of the other well-funded programs spread their funding to twenty or twenty five writers, they would be in the same boat.) I am always shocked when people do not rank Iowa in the top six or seven.

Indiana? Top ten or twelve, sure--but third? I really have never been able to see it in the top five... I would probably take Cornell, Syracuse, Virginia, JHU, Iowa , Minnesota and WashU over Indiana...

Personally, I think Minnesota and Montana should each be a little higher, but, admittedly, now I am getting into personal taste and personal interpretation of location, reputation and prestige a little more.

Thanks for the list and the work,


Glinda Bamboo

Jan 1, 2007, 9:18 PM

Post #118 of 764 (24342 views)
Re: [laughingman] More notes on the fiction MFA [In reply to] Can't Post

I'll add my thanks for this list...it looks like you put a lot of work into it. I admit I was also surprised to see Indiana ranked so high, and I don't see how location can really be a factor in these rankings since it represents a completely personal preference. (Why would Bloomington be ranked "elite" and Ann Arbor just "good"? For me, that would be reversed...but that's just me.) Anyway, I think everyone can agree that a ranking system, while a good guide, shouldn't offer any applicant the final word of which school would be the "best" for him or her. But I admire your work on this!


Jan 1, 2007, 9:21 PM

Post #119 of 764 (24342 views)
Re: [laughingman] More notes on the fiction MFA [In reply to] Can't Post

Laughing Man,

Personally I have nothing but the utmost respect for the Writers' Workshop--and should mention, again, for those who've seen the post, that none of what you see in the rankings reflects my personal opinion, but instead my synthesis of Tom Kealey's observations and weighing of various "hard" and "soft" criteria. For myself, I'd like to see Iowa ranked higher as well. By way of explanation--not to act as apologist for Kealey, but to clarify something--I have a sense that there are two primary reasons Iowa fared as it did on The Kealey Scale:

1) The ranking is by no means any sort of "moral" barometer of a school's commitment to poetry; everything is taken from the perspective of a prospective MFA student. Consequently, Iowa's unquestioned dedication to poetry (and the fact that, if it accepted fewer students, it would have more money available) didn't help it in the rankings: that's a "macro-" issue, and not one prospective students are likely to care about (i.e., every student just wants to know, am I going to be able to get funding, and not feel in competition with my classmates for it?). If I understand correctly, Iowa's new director has resolved to fix this problem (which, I suppose, on some level requires acknowledging that it is indeed a pressing problem--something Kealey's rankings already reflect).

2) Other schools haven't been static over the past ten years; Iowa dropped more than just five or six spots, I imagine, because while their funding system "stagnated" (if that's even the right word for it), other schools found themselves (not because of greater commitment, but, I suppose, greater available resources) in a position to dramatically increase their own student funding. So that accelerated Iowa's drop--if you look at the twelve schools ahead of it, all made substantial strides in funding over the past decade.

So, I don't think this is Kealey's "sour grapes" or anything like it; I think he's realizing that funding is the number one concern for prospective MFA students, not how many Pulitzers the faculty has (though I admit, that matters [and impresses] too!). As to Indiana, I agree with you, though I also realize that when you're #16 in 1997 and no one complains about it, and then you increase funding and teaching opportunities and give students not two but three years to write, you're going to bump yourself somewhere into the top 10.



Jan 1, 2007, 10:07 PM

Post #120 of 764 (24328 views)
Re: [Glinda Bamboo] More notes on the fiction MFA [In reply to] Can't Post


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!



Jan 1, 2007, 11:18 PM

Post #121 of 764 (24320 views)
Post deleted by hamholio [In reply to]



Jan 2, 2007, 12:42 AM

Post #122 of 764 (24300 views)
Re: [hamholio] More notes on the fiction MFA [In reply to] Can't Post


I can only say that Iowa is certainly in my top ten(!)

At the same, looking at programs I was amazed at how many schools with excellent reputations do in fact offer full tuition and a decent stipend to all incoming students--and I can tell you, there are more than ten such programs, though obviously none with Iowa's stellar reputation in so many other areas of consideration. I think what's telling for me, though--and what gives me a lot of additional respect for Iowa--is that its program director, Lan Samantha Chang, appears to have made no bones about the fact that Iowa's funding scheme must improve. I do realize that cuts both ways (that is, it's an admission that the program does have a "flaw" of sorts that some other top programs don't have, yet also shows that the school isn't resting on its many successes in the field, which is a very, very good signal to send).

In any event, I think that when Iowa's funding scheme is compared to the twelve schools "ahead of it" (or whatever) on The Kealey Scale, I can understand why a prospective student for whom funding was far and away the number one concern would feel that Iowa has some significant competition from schools such as Texas, Michigan, Cornell, Virginia, UMass, and so on; from that standpoint, and considering that The Kealey Scale quite openly privileges "funding" as a (the) top criteria, I can't fault those rankings by more than three to five spots (i.e., if you assume what Kealey has assumed about a given student's primary needs, I think even Iowa's own educators would admit it's in the Top 10 but not a runaway #1, which would make it a little silly for us to contradict them and say otherwise here).

That said, given that I and many others place a premium on funding but also (for instance) are obsessive about the prospect of teaching others at some point--myself, I've always wanted to be a teacher--I can also see Iowa being rated much, much higher than The Kealey Scale would have it. And as I said, that's exactly where I'd rank them: much, much higher (no disrespect to any other school intended; in fact, if I found one thing during my research, it's how many fantastic MFA programs there are overall, and I suppose that's good news for all of us!).

Anyway, one thing's clear: when Lan Samantha Chang finally gets the changes enacted at Iowa that she's looking to enact, Iowa will be the runaway #1 program by general consensus (across all rankings, and taking all different "student needs" into account). And while I don't know and have never spoken to Tom Kealey, I have to believe in his good faith enough to think that if and when that day comes, he'll put Iowa back at the top of his list (as, for the moment, he is quite clear that Iowa's funding "problem" is the only reason they're not still number one).



Jan 2, 2007, 9:35 AM

Post #123 of 764 (24265 views)
Re: [umass76] More notes on the fiction MFA [In reply to] Can't Post

P.S. Just wanted to let everyone know--as I'm only one man and I'm doing my best!--that a few of the top rankings got very slightly adjusted last night due to my realization that I had under-applied one of the weightings, specifically, "Reputation/C [cf. institution as a whole]." This isn't a very well-understood criteria, and, like several of the other criteria employed on The Kealey Scale, is deductively reasoned from his book's resources and observations rather than explicitly stated by Kealey. One of the resources Kealey finds necessary to include in his book--and I, for one, do understand why he does this--is a listing of websites which give some indication of school-wide reputations, including both undergraduate and (far more importantly for MFA students) English PhD. reputation rankings. Thus, while Indiana, Michigan, and Cornell are essentially "tied" in the top five--with Indiana getting the emphatic "easily" notation by Kealey in part, I think, because, unlike Michigan and Cornell, its presence in the top five is (as some have noted) something of a surprise and a significant change from the 1997 U.S. News & World Report rankings--it is clear that the latter two schools enjoy a better overall academic reputation than Indiana (though Indiana is no slouch! That's just some tough competition it has there) and therefore should have eked their way into the #3 and #4 spots, respectively, when I wrote up the initial Kealey Scale post. Michigan and Cornell also have top PhD. programs, as we all know--I should note that very important point, too.

I made the same inadvertant error in the bottom half of the top ten, with Houston, UVA, Johns Hopkins, and Brown; three of those four schools enjoy excellent overall academic reputations, including (notably) for their English PhD. programs, plus two of those schools (UVA; Brown) are supposed to inch a spot upward, over Houston and JHU, because of "location." [NB: I know giving any weight to location is highly unpopular here, and frankly if it was only that UVA and Brown had consensus positive impressions as to location, and Houston and JHU carried no bias in either direction, I think "location" would actually not be a factor here; as it is, you have UVA and Brown pulling themselves higher in the rankings and a co-equal opposite force acting upon Houston and JHU]. JHU then inches ahead of Houston because of its overall academic reputation, and especially its top English PhD. program. [I'll add that Kealey tacitly, and I think rightly, presumes the importance of a school's overall reputation for future employment opportunities, as well as for getting "in-house" recommendations to the PhD. program of the MFA program you're attending, a more valuable asset when the program in question is as revered as a Michigan, JHU, or especially a Cornell. Thus, I think this necessary but minor re-working of the rankings, to make them more accurate and helpful to prospective MFA students, is beneficial overall; nor, I'll note, is it as dramatic as one might think--notice that Cornell doesn't jump ahead of Michigan simply because it is slightly ahead in terms of the overall reputation for its undergrad and PhD. programs. The distinction between two schools in a given category, especially a lower-weighted category such as "Location" or "Reputation/C" must be significant in order for the criteria to have a measurable effect on the rankings].

One final note about Iowa, which dropped twelve spots in the rankings between 1997 and 2006 ostensibly because of funding-related concerns, a fact that has a lot of people borderline in a tizzy: it was only one of the countless programs who saw precipitous drops in their rankings because of funding-related issues. For instance, consider these other (in many cases as or more severe) "drops":

Emerson College (1997: #20; 2006: #45--twenty-five-spot drop);
University of Maryland (1997: #20; 2006: #40--twenty-spot drop);
University of Utah (1997: #16; 2006: #35--nineteen-spot drop);
George Mason University (1997: #20; 2006: #39--nineteen-spot drop);
University of Arizona (1997: #9; 2006: #27--eighteen-spot drop);
Arizona State University (1997: #20; 2006: #34--fourteen-spot drop);
Boston University (1997: #10; 2006: #23--thirteen-spot drop);
University of Arkansas (1997: #16; 2006: #29--thirteen-spot drop);
Columbia University (1997: #4; 2006: #16--twelve-spot drop);
University of Montana (1997: #10; 2006: #22--twelve-spot drop);
University of Pittsburgh (1997: #20; 2006: #32--twelve-spot drop);
University of Washington (1997: #10; 2006: #21--eleven-spot drop).

When you consider that, as I mentioned in my Introduction to The Kealey Scale, Columbia University would have dropped approximately two additional spots if not for its "elite" location, it seems to me that eleven schools dropped as much as Iowa, and ten dropped more than Iowa.

I think that puts a bit of a dent in the Kealey-just-hates-Iowa meme.


Jan 2, 2007, 11:44 AM

Post #124 of 764 (24234 views)
Re: [umass76] More notes on the fiction MFA [In reply to] Can't Post

Actually, one more Iowa note (I swear I'm not trying to dominate this thread, it's just that I've had more than 400 unique visits to the rankings page of The Suburban Ecstasies in the last 48 hours, and I'm getting a lot of e-mail queries as well, so I want to make sure I have these rankings as tight as possible): some people are saying to me that Iowa should really move ahead of UMass (from #13 to #12 on The Kealey Scale) because its Reputation/A-C score exceeds that of UMass substantially. In the "calculus" (not really) where Reputation/A (current) + Reputation/B (cf. 1997) + Reputation/C (undergrad + PhD ranking / 2) = overall reputation rating, you'd have approximately the following (again, these aren't "my" rankings, I'm just trying to get at what Kealey is saying between the lines of his excellent handbook):

Washington U (current #11): [approx. 15] + [10] + [12 + 39 / 2 = 26] = approx. 51*
UMass (current #12): [approx. 10] + [10] + [39 + 98 / 2 = 69] = approx. 89
UIowa (current #13): [approx. 1] + [1] + [27 + 64 / 2 = 41] = approx. 43

[* Some would put Washington U's Reputation/A (current) rating at roughly 10, instead of 15, which would put its Reputation/A-C at 46, not 51, much closer to Iowa's 43 than it is presently. However, I think the Reputation/A (current) ratings for these schools must somehow reflect the tremendous success in recent years of UMass graduates (for instance, in the much-vaunted, available-in-every-store Legitimate Dangers anthology of top young poets in America, UMass placed the second-most graduates after Iowa, literally double the third-place school, Columbia), and thus for the moment I think it reasonable to (as between these three programs) to do something to indicate UMass's unique present place amongst MFA programs. And yes, I realize the horrid crassness of applying numbers of any kind to Art, but I'm trying to deduce from Kealey's book a ranking system which will be a genuinely helpful resource for lost-and-confused prospective MFA students/artists, and in no way a slap in the face of those artists or their art].

Given the numbers above: Those of you who would say "Aha! Iowa clearly is #11!" must remember this is only a rough approximation of how one might determine a Reputation/A-C rating, which a) is one of the "soft" data points of the poll and thus disfavored, but also b) is not the first or even the second most-weighted data point in The Kealey Scale (as "funding," a "hard" data point, has that distinction). Thus, under The Kealey Scale, which privileges the funding criteria above all others, but does nevertheless give substantial weight (rightly) to "reputation," Iowa (43) probably still does not and cannot overtake Washington U (51 [or 46]) because of the funding factor. Less clear is whether Iowa (43) should jump over Massachusetts (89) on the strength of its reputation rating and despite the fact that UMass has, at the present time, a much better (NB: and less intra-program competition-inducing) funding scheme. So, there's a chance that some of you writing and e-mailing me have a point, and that at the least Iowa should be moved to #12.

[Also, some of you are suspicious that Kealey's own MFA alma mater is just ahead of Iowa, which again I'll note was not Kealey's specific doing, but my own in trying to "interpret" Kealey. These new numbers may avoid anyone having to deal with the thorny Iowa-versus-Massachusetts/"Was it a 'bias' call?" issue].


Glinda Bamboo

Jan 2, 2007, 12:28 PM

Post #125 of 764 (24222 views)
Re: [umass76] More notes on the fiction MFA [In reply to] Can't Post

Bless you for your dedication and work, umass, but I have to admit I'm chuckling a bit right now. This just demonstrates how insanely caught up we can get in rankings. Almost doesn't seem worth it, does it?

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