President Hennessy, Chronicle of Higher Education Respond to Recent Blog Postings

Posted by at 9:34PM

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After blogging about Harvard’s co-option of our GER system and the criticisms of the U.S. News and World Report’s annual college rankings, I heard back from both President Hennessy and the Chronicle of Higher Education.
What follows is a recap of what each of them said.
Hennessy said in an email to me that he likes our blog, which is totally awesome. Regarding my stance that Harvard basically stole our pre-existing GERs, The Prez said, “We all learn from one another and imitation is a complement!”
Hennessy also concurred (that’s right, the President of Stanford University and I see eye-to-eye) that the college rankings are detrimental, calling them, “a disservice.”
As for the Chronicle of Higher Education, they informed me of a packet of articles they released just this morning– I know, fresh off the press– analyzing the entire college ranking phenomenon. They too found methodological flaws. Lots of ’em.
Read on if you’d like to hear more about President Hennessy’s reaction to and the damning report from the Chronicle of Higher Education on college rankings.


Hennessy thinks they suck. Of course he said it much less harshly, but equally as clearly, telling me, “I dislike the rankings. I think they are a disservice.” He added that though there is “useful data in the reports” that’s pretty much negated because you now pay a premium to get it all. U.S. News and World Report uses some bogus $14.99 subscription thing to show you all their exact number crunching. Even though, as Hennessy noted, they use “an arbitrary weighting scheme,” a “silly and misleading” process which he says “mixes apples and oranges to get a score.”
But, Hennessy didn’t see reason for all hope to be lost. He liked the “transparency and openness” inherent in the disclosure of info for these rankings. But he made a good point in lamenting that the magazine does not publish the data or create some sort of online site to help high schoolers sort schools and develop a list of schools they might like (something which even the dreaded College Board does to some extent).
Earlier today, I was also contacted by Evan Goldstein, who works in the Communication Dept. at the Chronicle of Higher Education, which Wikipedia says is, “a newspaper that is a source of news, information, and jobs for college and university faculty and administration.”
The lead article in a series of three highlighted what many college administrators bemoan most about the rankings– that they favor private institutions like good ol’ Stanford. While 10 of the top-25 national universities in 1989 were public, only three made the cut on the most recent list.. The second, entitled, “What the Rankings Do For U.S. News,” showed that as Goldstein put it, “Without these rankings, U.S. News may well be out of business.” While they have the magazine’s editor Brian Kelly saying U.S. News only adds 5,000 to 10,000 more copies with the rankings issue than usual, the Chronicle also noted that the college ranking issue is bloated with ads (including regional space sold to smaller colleges, meaning they can double up on ad space). They also mentioned that whole pesky online business, which some 50,000 people sign up for (might I add that 50,000 x $14.99 alone is nearly three-quarters of a million dollars). Their final article acknowledged that rankings from abroad– like those from Shanghai Jiao Tong University or The Times Higher Education Supplement— are gaining traction and respect. It is interesting to note that even in rankings from abroad like the one from the Times of London, there is the tendency towards the sensationalist. The splashy web page says, “Who’s Up? Who’s Down?” as if to imply, as U.S. News does, that somehow one year Harvard is the number one school in the nation and the next year (last year) Princeton is better.
While we, like Harvard and Princeton, are lucky enough to be in a position where these rankings mean little more than bragging rights, a lot of other schools rely upon and closely watch their ranking rise and fall. The Chronicle article mentions Chapman and Baylor as two examples. Chapman for one rose greatly as a result of actions meant to increase its standing in the rankings. Baylor flat-out made it one of their 10-year goals in Baylor 2012 to break the Top 50. They’re stuck at #81. Every year when the rankings place Stanford among the best in the nation, there is an obligatory response from the University of, “While we are flattered, we consider the merits of Stanford to be based upon far more than any numerical designation, etc etc.” Jaded as I may be perhaps when I read that official statement this year, but really, we are awfully lucky not to depend on these rankings for the future of our school.

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