Jan 6, 2007, 3:15 PM
Post #203 of 764
Re: [mingram] Lists that actually matter
I, like you, am the sort of person who tends to want my rankings to focus--to the extent I'm going to focus on rankings at all--on those measures of a school which are most intangible, which I really need the advice of others to determine (it's like notions of "good governance": government allows us to accomplish important civic objectives together which we could not realistically accomplish separately; just so, rankings, in the assessment of difficult-to-assess institutions).
The first problem, of course, is that writing about and talking about "reputation" is a top-heavy prospect: it's fairly easy to come to a consensus on the top few schools, but how confident should I be when I am told, in 1997, that the University of Utah is the #16 school in the country, and the University of Colorado #50; that the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee is #72, but the main campus doesn't deserve to be ranked at all? It's not quite the same thing as someone swearing up and down that Cornell University offers a better MFA program than a school with far less visibility, history, overall cultural capital, and resources such as (totally random example) Pacific Lutheran.
The second problem is that such rankings are self-fulfilling. One can't rest on the assumptions of USNWR 97, because to do so is to essentially conduct free advertising for USNWR 07. If we keep reifying judgments made in 1997, they're likely to be--perhaps doomed to be--repeated in 2007. After all, a good reputation is self-enacting and self-promulgating over time; in contrast, more objective measures can have their changes (improvements or steps backward) independently assessed at any specific moment in time. How much of people thinking the University of Houston is the second-best school in the country--when it has never attained anything like this distinction for any of its other graduate or undergraduate programs--is the product of USNWR telling us so in 1997 and us not being able to forget it?
In creating new rankings, I'm sure Kealey realizes he's reshuffling the deck and creating an entirely new hierarchy of schools, one which will stick, at least to some degree, until the next such assessment, whether that comes today, tomorrow, in a month or in a year. Already, even just since 2006, you see the emergence of schools like Texas and Indiana and Syracuse and Minnesota and Wisconsin and Notre Dame as top-flight schools in the general opinion. That's not the doing of USNWR, who ranked those schools much lower in 1997 than they are "ranked" in people's minds now; that's the doing of people like Kealey. So: if you say you're a glutton for "reputation" scores, how does the fact that The Kealey Scale and other published assessments like it are, even as we speak, overturning the old hierarchies and making the conventional wisdom as to "reputation" obsolete, change your opinion? Does it? Don't these new rankings become relevant and influential, in some sense, simply by existing? Could we ever again expect to see the same rankings that we saw in 1997, the moment people started publicizing Notre Dame's excellent financial aid package? Is it really possible for people to come on this site and every other site and bad-mouth Columbia's miserly financial aid package, and then for someone to come on here and say that Columbia's reputation remains perfectly untouched (#4) despite of all that bad press?
Writing new rankings is undoubtedly about entrenching a hierarchy; but if the rankings are more intelligent in their design and more creative and sensitive in their scope than those which preceded, is it such a bad thing to temporarily entrench a new hierarchy? That's how progress gets made, right? Indeed, new rankings are easy to "check" as to accuracy. No one who has read the savage attacks on Columbia on this site and elsewhere should have been surprised to see the school's reputation suffer and its ranking drop accordingly, as "reputation" (even in 1997) was a catch-all piece of terminology that, we must assume, encompassed everything about a school, including its reputation for generosity toward its students. Likewise, as people began writing that Utah wasn't giving many people money, that Notre Dame was, that Syracuse had top professors, that Indiana was actually an incredible experience overall, the rankings of these schools were changing right under our feet.
If you were to ask me about the weak spots in Kealey's rankings, I'd probably point to the absence of schools which everyone is talking about excitedly: BGSU, Southern Illinois, Illinois, and a handful of others. In the next rankings of Top 50 schools we'll probably see these schools between #35 and #50, and then the community will, across countless web-boards and in countless small coffee bars, "react" to those new numbers and thereby lend them (or take away from them) a certain amount of validity. So, I'm very cautious of anyone talking about Columbia being the #4 program in the country when, well, the tone of modern-day discussion of Columbia is not the tone you assign to the #4 program in the country.
That applies, to a much lesser extent, to Iowa. Mike, for better or worse I went to Harvard Law School, and have been around countless discussions of law schools, and people simply don't express the mixed feelings about HLS that I hear now about Iowa (until, that is, they're HLS graduates, and then many people have mixed feelings). That doesn't mean Iowa isn't stellar, it just means that the top schools in any field are going to be, on some level, the schools which engender the most universal feelings of awe and respect. Iowa encourages its observers, and universally at that, to all sorts of awe and respect, but that phenomenon has been slightly dulled of late, there's just no denying it. The discussions and comments are there for anyone to see. And thus it shouldn't have been wholly surprising to see Iowa drop a tad (though the tone of the discussions before and after The Kealey Scale makes me believe it dropped around six to eight spots too far), and a school like Texas--which I have heard almost nothing negative about, ever--move past it. That doesn't mean that 7 out of 10 students who get accepted to Iowa won't still go there(!) It just means that "funding" moves the ball--it changes people's opinions, and since reputation is predicated on the opinions of people, reputation will change with changes in funding.
Just my two cents.
(This post was edited by umass76 on Jan 6, 2007, 3:22 PM)