This University's unfounded and unjustified self-doubt will be its end. Upon the news that the University of Pennsylvania tied Stanford for sixth place in the annual U.S. News & World Report rankings, Admissions Dean Lee Stetson remarked, "When you see Harvard, Yale, Princeton well entrenched in one, two, [and] three... it's hard to visualize us moving much further." What's even harder to see is how Dean Stetson, with such poor vision, acquired a position of leadership at this University. And that's part of the problem. Pennsylvania will continue to come in at sixth, and eighth and eventually 10th, because it cannot visualize itself coming in third, second or first. It seems as if at every turn the University community, the administration included, has to be re-reminded that ours is a world-class school with a history and culture of national significance. I will not recite the laundry list of University accolades here. We should not have to be reminded daily that we are beautiful and unique snowflakes. Now, step one is to deconstruct the rankings and understand that at one level that they are a farce. For example, last year Caltech hit No. 1. Today, it is No. 4. Did Caltech magically do that much worse in the course of 12 months? Did space monkeys bomb the labs, set fire to the dorms? No. Every year U.S. News tweaks the criteria to give the illusion of a horse race. But what's really happening is that the horses are standing still and it's the U.S. News readers moving sideways. When Duke was in the top five in the late '90s, their basketball team also happened to be at the top of their game. Some would say this is a coincidence. Some wouldn't. Lately Duke has fallen; have they just gotten dumber, or has the basketball gotten worse? Hard to tell. Also, Berkeley has been consistently ranked as the best overall graduate institution in the country -- by academics, not U.S. News -- ever since 1983. Even in the U.S. News undergraduate program rankings, Berkeley is in the top five in a majority of categories, but the school hasn't broken the top 10 in over a decade and tends to hover around No. 20. This is despite the fact that Berkeley is perhaps the best bargain in higher education, with tuition about four times lower than the Ivy League. If U.S. News utilized a cost to quality criteria, Berkeley might come in first, trailed by Michigan, Virginia and UCLA. Or think of MIT. Its non-science programs are but academic pygmies, but it has maintained a strong top five ranking for quite a while. If U.S. News used a "breadth of curriculum" criterion, MIT would take a tumble. Or consider Princeton for that matter. No post-graduate professional schools. No law. No business. No medicine. Thus no undergraduate support from those schools' faculty, resources and TAs. But Princeton always does well. If U.S. News used a "depth of curriculum" criterion, however, Princeton would be in pain. The moral to the story is that if you shift the criteria, you change the result. If diversity were really as important as the universities say, then UCLA and Rutgers would have been in the top 10. If high school GPA were more important, Penn would climb and Princeton would drop. If class size and percent of full-time faculty were weighted more heavily, we would not have tied, but beat Stanford. Does this mean we were robbed? No. That is not the point. Do not crawl into your cave. Within general tiers it makes a certain amount of sense to suggest that some schools keep different company than others, but any finer gradations are ridiculous. And to buy into the system whole hog is to actively forfeit every faculty of critical reasoning that got you to the Ivy League to begin with. But step two is to realize that the rankings are a game, and games can be beat. The numbers can be manipulated, our sports teams can be publicized and Robert Redford can do endorsements on the Walk. We are now free to understand something your friends and parents don't want you to understand: You are not your rankings. Of course, Dean Stetson may be right. We may never break No. 6, but not because we're not smart enough, or our professors aren't smart enough or the endowment isn't large enough. Remember, we are not our bank account either. If Stetson's right, it will be because he believes it and we believe it, and it's a prophecy that we feel obligated to fulfill.Comments powered by Disqus
Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The Daily Pennsylvanian.