Rankings Ruckus

by Phil Aubart | 8/15/08 2:42am

On Tuesday, we heard much wailing and gnashing of teeth regarding rankings and Dartmouth's place in them. Sam Buntz '11 decried both the most recent Princeton Review ranking and the most recent U.S. News and World Report ranking ("Reject Ridiculous Rankings," August 12). Claire Murray '10 lambasted the Princeton Review's new "Green Rating" system ("All That's Green Is Not Gold," August 12).

While some say that Dartmouth is getting screwed in the rankings, we need to look at the facts behind our poor ratings rather than immediately dismissing them. If indeed the rankings are completely arbitrary and full of BS -- such as the peer review system -- then we can disregard that aspect and emphasize the areas in which we excel.

Buntz laments the fact that part of the U.S. News and World Report's ranking system uses a grade from "peer reviews" -- that is, the opinion of similar colleges on how we're doing at Dartmouth. Of course, this was the only reason that our ranking dropped. But, if our ultimate goal is to focus on the undergraduate education of students here, shouldn't we be indifferent to the opinion of Harvard and Columbia faculty in regards to Dartmouth? They are different, and if they view us poorly in light of that difference and our ranking drops, so be it. Anyone who is looking at Dartmouth and comparing it to the other top 10 (oops, I mean 11) schools will quickly realize that Dartmouth is different. Are we really losing that many "Dartmouth kids" to Harvard and the like? Doubtful.

Another point of contention was how poorly we ranked in the Princeton Review's assessment of Financial Aid. How unfair that they used last year's data! Wait, that would mean that they used last year's data from all of the schools who have recently switched to free tuition for low-income students. In other words, the poll makes it obvious that our Financial Aid needed some serious revamping, which fits in with my experience as a Financial Aid student. Here, here! Fixing something that wasn't very good!

Murray takes issue with our low ranking among "green" schools. Yes, it is true that the Princeton Review uses a horrible benchmark (the carbon-offset plan), but the guide clearly states all of its criteria. Certainly anyone who is deathly afraid of attending an unsustainable school will look further into the issue than just glancing at the Princeton Review.

Of course, maybe the Princeton Review isn't so far wrong. Think outside of that plan to reduce carbon emissions and examine the things that Dartmouth can improve. Our school uses a tow-truck to hand out parking tickets. Really, a golf cart would do fine. Those Safety and Security vehicles driving around campus 24/7 are SUVs, and not even Hybrids at that. Has anyone ever been thrown in the back of one of those? Why the SUV?

Aside from the overuse of motor vehicles, not all of our campus lighting has been switched to compact fluorescent or other, better bulbs yet. That's right -- for some reason we're still burning incandescent light bulbs on campus. Even fraternities are getting ahead on this. Psi Upsilon has switched over to 100% compact fluorescent light bulbs and Sigma Alpha Epsilon will do so next week.

Also, our public urinals could be waterless. Think of the water that would save! Oh, and it would save even more if the new dorms were built with them rather than the sole toilet in each bathroom. Why force someone to flush when we could save the water?

Finally, we still haven't figured out recycling in the frats. Apparently, once we thought kegs might be coming back, we decided to forgo finding a viable solution.

The point is that before we start complaining about our rankings, we need to look carefully at why we may have received poor rankings. While we certainly excel in some areas, in other, simple areas we're dropping the ball. I don't think we scored poorly in "greenery" solely because of that dumb carbon thing.

Yes, it's true, the rankings are arbitrary and maybe even petty. But as Buntz points out, rankings posit "that education and the acquisition of knowledge can be measured against some universal yardstick. The truth is that it is always a foolish mistake to search for absolutes in a relative universe." However, the ranking companies are, in fact, companies and they will create an arbitrary system. While it may not be perfect, it serves as a good general guideline. I mean, I'm sure everyone would like their school to be number one, but that's just not possible. Even relatively.