Colleges contest magazine’s ranking method

by Andrew Donohue

A collegiate crusade against the annual U.S. News and World Report graduate school rankings has been launched nationwide with the support of University administration.
National frustration surrounding the rankings grows every year, cresting with Monday’s publication. Claiming that the magazine ignores several pertinent categories when calculating the rankings, administrators around the country and the University have voiced concerns in the publication’s ranking system.
An association of American law schools issued a report critical of the rankings signed by 164 law school deans, including E. Thomas Sullivan, dean of the University Law School.
“I find serious methodological flaws in the rankings,” Sullivan said. “They change the categories and questions every year, and they don’t ask a number of relevant questions.”
Magazine officials have acknowledged the difficulty of ranking programs, and are open to improving the methodology of the study.
Sullivan said the rankings ignore numerous important factors, such as faculty reputation, quality of curriculum and scholarship availability. Officials from U.S. News said factors such as curricula and faculty quality are in fact taken into consideration in its surveys.
Law schools have taken the most action against the ranking system, highlighted by a report by the Association of American Law Schools. The report, released last week, challenged the validity of the U.S. News and World Report rankings and urged the magazine to stop publication of the rankings.
The law association report was signed by the deans of 164 out of 180 American Bar Association-endorsed law schools, including deans from eight of U.S. News’ top 10 law schools. Along with the report, an estimated 70,000 letters were sent to law-school applicants asserting that the rankings are unreliable.
The University Law School finished 18th overall and placed in the top five public schools. However, despite respectable rankings, Sullivan questioned the validity of the study.
“One must be careful how to use the rankings. I caution applicants of law schools not to look at these rankings as the gospel,” he said.
A press release from U.S. News recommends that their study should be used in conjunction with many other factors, such as academic and professional ambitions, financial resources and school sizes and locations.
Magazine officials insist they base their ratings on diverse categories, but the claim has faced much contention from the association and others.
“The process is highly subjective,” said Mark Brenner, dean of the Graduate School. “Most of the school rankings, with the exception of law and business, are based strictly on reputation.”
Disapproval of independent ranking systems like the U.S. News report has not only come from the administration, but also from the student body.
“Traditionally, the University has been very unhappy with conventional rankings,” said Albert Nakano, president of the Council of Graduate Students.
“Because they do not calculate many important issues, rankings can be misleading. The agricultural program, which is very prestigious here at the University, is never included in these kinds of rankings,” he said.
Although contention against the ratings ran high, the University did bode fairly well in the standings. The Department of Psychology graduate program continued its roller coaster ride through U.S. News’ ranking system by climbing to ninth in the nation, after not being ranked since 1995, when it placed sixth.
Economics and audiology rounded out the University’s top 10 representatives at 10th and sixth, respectively. Education took a small tumble out of the top 10, falling from ninth to 11th.