Ivy Council to vote on rankings

by Maura Henninger | 2/4/97 6:00am

Later this month the Ivy Council will vote whether to condemn the college rankings published annually in U.S. News and World Report magazine, the first policy decision the group has made in its two-year existence.

Until now, the council, composed of four students from each Ivy League school, has served only as a forum for discussion for leaders of the eight schools' student bodies.

Controversy over the U.S. News rankings has intensified since the Forget U.S. News Coalition, a group started by a Stanford student, began wooing student governments to condemn the practice of ranking top schools. The coalition has also tried to convince college administrators to withhold information from U.S. News.

"The idea of ranking colleges is philosophically absurd," Coalition Founder Nick Thompson said. "It goes against logic to plug numbers through an algorithm and conclude that one college is better than another."

The Ivy Council vote will probably fall short of a condemnation of the U.S. News rankings. The resolution currently being drawn up by Cornell representatives will probably state that "the ranking system isn't a wise way of judging colleges or comparing colleges, and it shouldn't be given as much weight in one's decision as other factors," Dartmouth representative Dave Gacioch '00 said.

Thompson said a statement from the Ivy Council could induce the editors of U.S. News to change their policy during their annual evaluation, which takes place every February. He said an Ivy Council decision will carry extra weight, since the group contains representatives of top-ranked schools.

"If a statement of condemnation comes from eight of the top 20 schools, it's going to demonstrate a difference in principle that transcends mere rivalry on the part of the Ivies," Gacioch said.

But U.S. News representatives said an Ivy Council statement is unlikely to induce extreme policy changes.

Mel Elfin, the executive editor of the U.S. News "America's Best Colleges" issue, said editors will begin meeting with university officials in mid-February to discuss ways to improve the ranking system.

"There's never a perfect way to measure colleges, and that's why we're constantly changing the way in which we rank schools," Elfin said. "This is certainly not a static project; we're constantly meeting with college presidents and research experts to fine-tune our methodology."

Members of the Ivy Council are quick to declare their autonomy from the Forget U.S. News Coalition.

"We don't want the Ivy Council's views defined by FUNC's views," Dartmouth representative Case Dorkey '99 said. "FUNC has some pretty strong views that aren't completely agreed upon by every member of the Ivy Council."

Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid Karl Furstenberg said Dartmouth reaps great benefits from the annual rankings.

"Dartmouth is grouped in the top 10 with a collection of major research universities," Furstenberg said. "This has raised an awareness of Dartmouth that wouldn't have been there without the rankings."

Newsweek magazine recently entered the college guidebook fray, publishing the book "How to Get Into College" along with Kaplan Education Centers. But Newsweek adamantly distances itself from U.S. News and its rankings.

"Rankings generate huge hype, which is far more likely to serve the magazine's purpose than the readers," according to a Newsweek press release. "Rankings tend to severely limit the range of schools that students consider."

"In a society that thrives on 'Best of' and 'Top 10' lists, it's not surprising that college rankings carry such tremendous weight," the release states. "But Kaplan and 'Newsweek' believe that [guidebooks] are stronger without them."

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