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Rankings Redux

Corey Earle hits the nail on the head with his column today on the history of Cornell in the U.S. News and World Report rankings:

Because U.S. News edits its methodology each year, the results are unreliable, inaccurate and can't really be compared between years... As long as schools are so arbitrarily ranked, high school students may continue to base their college application decisions on the wrong factors. A single number tells very little about the quality of the next four years of your life.

I couldn’t say it any better myself. It’s of a view that I would hope any well-educated person (and most certainly a Cornellian) would hold.

He continues on to josh some of the Image Committee’s aims, references the now-infamous New York Times article, and questions the need for the University to re-allocate its resources to deliberately improve its standing in the eyes of some:

Although it’s been shown that the rankings do matter to potential applicants, perhaps Cornell should focus less on trying to fit the inappropriate criteria that U.S. News has selected as important. The rank-improving goals of Cornell’s Image Committee may be admirable, but stating to The New York Times last semester that Cornell’s problem is a lack of “cool hats” and “cool hoodies” probably isn’t going to earn us many points under peer assessment.

Corey's right. Acquiescing to the rankings game could come at the cost of high quality teaching and research. And we don’t really want that, do we now? For instance, Cornell could certainly dedicate more resources to decreasing class sizes, but that might come at the expense of teaching-quality, research opportunity for undergraduates, or fundamental research in the physical sciences. The university’s resources are finite, and perhaps there are more important challenges to face other than fighting the windmills of whether or not Cornell is ranked 11th or 14th according to some news magazine.

This hits on an issue I have always had with the Image Committee: that they have always made their desire for a "higher ranking" so public and blantant. Certainly, they did amazing work to improve the University's logo and public website, and they should be lauded for their efforts. But I never understood why they always get so bent out of shape over Cornell's standing in some ranking; it reeks of a "wannabe" attitude, that, quite frankly, I think Cornell is above.

If we simply focused on the other things that the Image Committee has always stressed, like building alumni relationships, improving the University's external communications, and investing in undergraduate teaching and research, such petty things as rankings should take care of themselves.

Matthew Nagowski | Posted on August 30, 2006 (#)

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