Monday, August 21, 2006

#9

Maybe if Chicago moves up another eights spots I might actually invest some confidence in the rankings. Seriously though, Duke, Penn, Dartmouth(!), how the hell do they get to be among the elite? Have you ever heard of Dartmouth University Press? How about a Duke School of Thought? Has Penn ever founded a discipline? It is just silly to impute meaning to a system that is unable to measure the significant characteristics of an educational institution. While one could attempt to argue which faculty is finest, the UofC also does a damn fine job of undergraduate education, a fact completely overlooked by any of the USNews indicators.

As an addendum to this rant, I spoke with Dean B____ a little over a year ago about the rankings. I asked him whether or not the university cared about its low ranking to which he responded that they didn't care, although angry alumni calling up the school complaining did make it harder to not-care. I guess the angry alums won out.

Thanks to WWPD by way of CS for the heads up.

For more fun with numbers look here.

10 comments:

Phoebe said...

"I find no cause to reason that Harvard or Princeton is a better school than the UofC; it's just not the case."

They're better in some ways but not others. Foreigners and employers have heard of them. You're considered an authority on whatever you feel like if you're a "Harvard-educated" anything. And, sadly, the fact that it's harder to get into these schools may make for a more intelligent overall student body. Look at the Crimson versus the Maroon, it's sad but true.

That said, Chicago has other things going for it. It's OK to go to Chicago and not want the typical, "fun" college experience, to want to read a ton, find a field that you're passionate about, and sign up for the GRE.

Obviously, if Chicago were to rise in the rankings, if the things that make Chicago unique were more highly valued, then Chicago would become more famous, more difficult to get into, and so on. The problem is, for Chicago to rise, and relatedly, to get more applicants, it has to focus on what makes the school like Harvard or Princeton, or Duke, UVA, etc. We have that shiny new gym, right?

But the perfect state of affairs is if Chicago, without changing any more than it already has, could just present itself in such a way that we can sneak up the rankings, then surprise the country with the bizarre fact that the best school in the country is also the geekiest.

Sam said...

Phoebe, do you think the Crimson is better than the Maroon?

In my experience, there are definitely more terminal overachievers at Harvard than at Chicago. In the math department, for instance, there are a lot of olympiad winners. The big difference between the two undergraduate student bodies is that most Harvard undergrads I've met are very confident, savvy and pushy. They know how to get things (e.g. admission to Harvard), how to talk to people, etc. Many of the ones who aren't as savvy are socially unhappy.

Certainly there are savvy students at Chicago but when I was there, I didn't think that they dominated the social scene.

Zev said...

Phoebe, the things you seem to point to are not substantive shortcomings. While matters of appearance and perception are certainly significant, it does not seem that those factors should come to bear when evaluating a school qua academic institution. Insofar as the USNews does not incorporate "name recognition" in its formula, I think this is a fair qualification to make here.

To my mind the “goodness” of a school is its ability to educate and the capacity of the students to be educated (this statement hinges somewhat precariously on what education means, but that can be overlooked for the moment). I can make the statement you quoted above because I just don't care how shiny the floors of Ratner are or how many alums show up for Homecoming. Do you really feel your education or even your career prospects have somehow been diminished because of the high acceptance rate?

As the joke goes, there are two types of people in the world, those who have heard of the UofC and those that have not...and they don't matter. So although mildly obnoxious, who in the corporate world has not heard of the UofC?

miriam said...

zev,
1 - i can't believe you are actually worked up about this.

2 - US news is ranking best colleges, not best "educations." (i think.) as such it makes a lot of sense to include various measures of whether or not students are happy with their experience (both while they are at the school and after). even if they were ranking "educations," you might convincingly argue that ability to avoid misery is part of a good education. ceertainly, the ability to place people where they want to be after they graduate helps them look back favorably, too...
whether people at harvard or penn or dartmouth come in with these abilities or the culture there generates it (or doesn''t, depending on whiom you ask) is an open question.

3 - even with your (non)definition of "education," who says U of C is really better? i mean, penn, fine, but princeton? harvard? i would say it compares, but i find the whole chicago obsession with secretly being the absolute "best," however tongue in cheek, silly and usually annoying. i learned stuff, but i know a lot of intelligent people who went to other schools who are at least as "educated." speaking of harvard,* eg, many of the people i know who went there as undergrads have a high degree of specilaized education in their particular field. higher than the average a u of c, probably. they may pay for it on the "liberal arts" side, but claiming that l.a. defines "education" is just chicago propaganda.

*i feel the absurd need to qualify: while i do have something of the chicago neurosis re: harvard, the reason i chose it here is just that, being from boston, i know a lot more people who went there than anywhere else...

Zev said...

Miriam, I think you get more worked up potting a plant than anything I do with regularity. So there :P

I don't think the UofC is better than Princeton (although Chicago might have some added benefits re: a home for dorks & geeks). Smart people teach smart people at both schools, and do so well. I was responding to Phoebe who seemed to indicate that UofCers lose out.

Still, I do think that there was something unique about my educational experience, insofar as every education is unique; I just prefer my flavor. You can always ask why one prefers one flavor of ice cream above another (even if one has not exhausted sampling all flavors) but it still makes sense to have a "favorite." UChicago Peanut Butter Fudge, thank you.

jacob said...

Zev - Had you bought a copy of the magazine, (and I hope you didnt) you could have analyzed the rankings methadology. Maybe they heavily discounted schools whose student body obsessed over college rankings....

Zev said...

Wait, so is NYU Law still higher ranked than UofC? I hope so ;)

Nope, still have not opened the magazine. Sorry.

jacob said...

NYULaw is tied for fourth in the USNews rankings with Columbia which is dropping fast and losing its biggest names (many to NYU).

Sarcasm aside - The USNews rankings may be completely ridiculous but they do make their methadology very clear. The real question is if their rankings reflect their idea of what a good college really is all about. I, for one, do not think they do. It may not be scientific, but I judge college and grad school experiences by their graduates' subjective opinion of their alma mater. Try asking people you meet what they think of their alma maters. You will be surprised.

One example: The few Yale Law School graduates I have met were generally disappointed with YLS. More notable, was the disappointment of a transfer student from UofC to YLS. This is the main reason why I dont think the rankings are accurate.

Phoebe said...

"Phoebe, the things you seem to point to are not substantive shortcomings. While matters of appearance and perception are certainly significant, it does not seem that those factors should come to bear when evaluating a school qua academic institution. Insofar as the USNews does not incorporate "name recognition" in its formula, I think this is a fair qualification to make here.

To my mind the “goodness” of a school is its ability to educate and the capacity of the students to be educated (this statement hinges somewhat precariously on what education means, but that can be overlooked for the moment). I can make the statement you quoted above because I just don't care how shiny the floors of Ratner are or how many alums show up for Homecoming. Do you really feel your education or even your career prospects have somehow been diminished because of the high acceptance rate?"

To answer the last question first, I think if anything my education was helped by the high acceptance rate-- it's in many ways easier to learn in an environment where not everyone's striving to be generically "best"--and I have some means of comparison, since that was my high school. But were my career prospects affected? At the moment, not in the least, but when I was considering going into journalism, I'd have been a fool not to notice that Harvard excites people at magazines in a way that Chicago does not. Which brings me to your first point. Of course "matters of appearance and perception" can be "substantial shortcomings," since they, along with the education you've received, have a huge impact on your post-college life.

There are advantages and disadvantages to going to a "hidden gem" college. The disadvantages are undeniable and obvious, but the advantage is that you are at a place that suits your needs in particular. If you're a "Chicago person," whatever that means, but it's something I felt and feel that I am, then it's worth a bit less recognition for the school to keep being a bit different.

Josh said...

Being in the corporate world, and suffering to a certain extent from U of C's lack of name recognition, I have thought about this (both the quality of the UofC education and its ranking/name recognition) and discussed it with my colleagues and others.

I'm commenting because I find that the best indicator for me of the quality of the Chicago education is this conversation, which I see in the lucidity of the arguments and the passion of the participants. I also see it in your obviously improved rhetorical and analytical abilities over your abilities when I first met you -most of you at the beginning of or very early on in your Chicago education. This is impressive when compared to the changes in others I knew who attended other schools mentioned in the above discussion.

I had not considered the downsides of improving U of C's rankings, but considering them, I think that it would be worthwhile for the school to concern itself with its rankings in US News and other sources and to take some fairly simple steps to improve its rankings- both from an educational perspective (ability to attract and retain top quality professors) and an economic perspective ("value" of the Chicago degree, level of donations).

The best place to start would be determining what the right metrics are for Chicago's performance, and then comparing those metrics to the ones used by US News, to get a picture of the relative cost (in terms of performance) of focusing on ranking-related metrics versus true performance metrics.