Let me preface this by saying that again, my response isn't personal. I have met Sandra Beasley on more than one occasion and she's exceedingly lovely. But I do disagree with the article's argument. And here's why: It's written from the (biased) perspective of someone who already has an MFA. And it tips me off to a sixth reason why people don't like MFA rankings: they feel defensive and protective of their own experience. They applied to and chose their program (or, if they were like many people I have met, only "chose" a program by virtue of its being the only one that accepted them*) without the benefit of rankings, so why can't others do the same? I'm sorry to say it, but this smacks to me of old-fogeyism: When I wanted a fire I had to chop the wood myself! You kids today don't appreciate the value of a hard day's work, etc. If we did it that way in the past, by God we can keep doing it that way.
Sandra makes the argument (at least, I think she does; it's constructed as an ironic list, whereby she pretends, e.g., to advise readers to accept nothing less than full funding and then reveals that she in fact does not agree with this advice; in all honesty it took me a minute to realize this because the advice is far from obviously facile) that having to pay for your MFA might be positive. She chose a program "that required cobbling together a full-time job, fellowship pay for editing [the] literary journal, and over $20,000 of loans"; she seems to suggest that this experience built character.
I realize that the majority of people who would even consider attending an MFA program are at an economic advantage; they may be people who have no college debt, people who have never even had a job. For such candidates I suppose that having to cobble together funds and accrue tens of thousands of dollars of debt might build character. But can we try to look at this issue from the perspective of an "aspiring" writer who falls in the minority? Who may not have the money to pay out of pocket, who may already be in some degree of debt (from college or otherwise), who is quite familiar with the experience of working for a living, and may have found that despite all the character and experience this offers, they don't have the time they want or need to devote to writing? And their reason for pursuing an MFA is the desire to take a two-year sabbatical from all that and just write? And maybe they have the foresight to avoid more debt if possible? Wouldn't it be nice if someone in that position could find accurate information on how much funding each program offers? Or would you still tell that person, Don't worry about funding--just "follow your heart, or your whim"?
The article ends like this (again, this is intended ironically):
Don’t, whatever you do, run the risk of failure. This is why we have rankings and how-tos, right? To buffer. To plan.I may be misreading this (am I?), but to me this kind of says, "Follow your heart, risk failure, and you'll end up like me, a successful writer with two prize-winning books of poetry and a forthcoming memoir." I think Sandra absolutely deserves this success ... but most MFA graduates won't attain it. And those who go into debt to not attain it may be more bitter.
Otherwise, just imagine what could happen.
You could end up ... here.
I'm happy for the writers who have followed their whims and gone on to have a positive MFA experience. But with or without rankings, some people end up at the right program and some people end up at the wrong program. There's no way to fix it so everyone ends up with the right kitten. Rankings won't do it, but neither will obfuscating and withholding information.
*Data on acceptance rates might reduce this phenomenon, whereby writers are forced to "choose" the one program that admits them, or are accepted nowhere at all. If you plan to apply to five programs and realize they all have acceptance rates of less than 1%, you might rethink your strategy and apply to a lot more programs and/or apply to a "safety school."