The subject of rankings of colleges/universities, departments, and programs is huge and complex and I am not even going to begin to tackle it in a comprehensive way. I am, however, interested in the topic of how administrators decide which rankings they like and don’t like.
You might think it is simple: administrators like high rankings and don’t like low rankings, but it is actually more complex than that when you consider the relative rankings of departments within a university or unit of a university.
For example, there is one particular science/engineering department at my university that is typically very highly ranked in major surveys of graduate programs. I think it is in fact a very excellent department. I have worked with faculty and students in that department, and served on university committees that evaluate faculty and students in that department, and there is no question that it has many strengths. Owing to its excellence, this department receives a lot of attention and resources from the university, and, to be fair, generates a lot of attention and resources for the university. Administrators love this department.
Consider now the situation in which another department (just for fun, let’s say this is My Department) ranks extremely high in a recent survey, but the Esteemed Department does not rank as high. Are the Deans et al. happy that My Department is highly ranked? No, they are not happy. In fact, because the Esteemed Department is not as highly ranked as they expected it to be, the survey must be flawed. In fact, the Deans et al. are so disturbed by the unexpectedly low ranking of the Esteemed Department (i.e., not even in the Top 10), they take no joy whatsoever from the high ranking of any other department and bury the data.
If the Esteemed Department had been ranked #1 or #2, the media engine would be roaring and we would all be reading glossy university magazines and brochures that heralded to the world the amazing success of this department. Are the people in My Department angry and bitter? No, they are not angry and bitter. You might say, however, that they are chagrined. They are also considering options for self-promotion that show that they are proud of their accomplishments but at the same time are not slaves to rankings, which we all know are deeply flawed, or at least, some of them are.
10 months ago