Continuing with my recent string of discussing grades and grading methods, I want to focus on how the College is graded and how much attention it pays to those grades. The way I see it, the College can be graded by several different means, but the most important distinction is who does the grading. Is it by the student body or the outside world?
The outside world grades Dartmouth College in many different and diverse ways. But the most important grade, the one that seems to stick out in everybody's mind is the U.S. News and World Report College Rankings. It is in this absurd report that every college and university in America is "ranked." Somehow, through crazy formulas and random surveys it has been determined that Dartmouth College is the seventh best school in the nation. Huh?
How can anyone or any organization say such a thing? In science class we were taught the value of significant digits. That concept says that you only report your conclusion with the accuracy of your data, not with all the numbers that appear on your calculator. In other words, how can U.S. News and World Report justify the difference between Dartmouth and Duke or Harvard and Princeton, or for that matter, Dartmouth and Harvard. All of the institutions are drastically different, with different academic, extra-curricular, and unique specialties.
I guarantee that if you went to Brown -- which is ranked as a worse school than Dartmouth -- and studied Studio Art, you would be doing better for yourself than if you went to Dartmouth and studied studio art. Likewise, who is to say that a Government major here is not receiving a better education than one at Princeton? Finally, how can you compare a school like Dartmouth, where classes are taught by caring full professors who devote more time to their students than to publishing, with Harvard where courses are taught by TAs and the average undergraduate never gets their work graded by a professor, much less has lunch with him or her (as often is the case at Dartmouth)?
But the scary thing about these rankings, is the impact that they have. How many of the Administration's decisions are based on improving our ranking? I say, that even if one decision is based on that criterion, it is wrong. But we know that many decisions, particularly those that involve spending money, are made with the intent of improving our national ranking. These decisions go beyond the admissions office, and they affect our daily lives.
This brings me to the other way the Administration could make decisions: asking the student body. If the satisfaction and benefits of the student body were considered more important than our rankings, how different would campus be?
With less administrative emphasis on our "ranking" -- which depends too much upon faculty publishing rates -- worthy professors would not be denied tenure for lack of publications. Money that is currently spent on other things would be spent on the student body. We would not get ripped off every time we wanted to wash our clothes or drink a soda. Rice University, a very fine institution that cares less about their "ranking" than Dartmouth, has free laundry to all students living in dorms. Why can't we?
Do people realize that "grade grubbing" occurs way past graduation? By grade grubbing I mean focusing more on how the system scores you than on why you are in the system in the first place. Dartmouth is in the business of educating students and producing a learning, caring, and fun community. Yet way too much emphasis, money, time, and energy is spent by the College to try to better its rank. A rank that is determined by outside entities that will never cheer for the Big Green, nor climb Mount Moosilauke, nor be alumni some day.
If you feel the same way as I, there is an organization based out of Stanford, which is trying to convince the administrations of the nations top colleges to care less about their rankings. Check out their web site at http://www-leland.stanford.edu/group/assu/func, or give their leader a blitz at email@example.com.