"At least two schools -- the University of North Carolina and Ohio State -- designed institutionwide strategies just to boost their ratings," the editorial stated.
UNC officials have denied ratings influence the University's institutional structure, while Ohio State administrators admit rankings are used to help determine if the school is meeting its goals for improvement.
In a letter, which has not been printed in The New York Times, UNC Chancellor James Moeser disputed the editorial's claims and stated his disagreement with using college rankings to make academic decisions. "One of the strongest messages I have shared with our key constituents since becoming chancellor last year is the importance of not becoming preoccupied with comparisons to other universities and specifically journalistic rankings," the letter states.
Moeser also spoke against judging university improvement by ratings in his installation speech last October. "Let us avoid bowing before the altars of the false gods of journalistic ratings," he said at the time. "By so doing, we run the grave risk of losing what sets Chapel Hill apart and makes it so special."
The editorial criticized the rankings' priorities and data gathering techniques. The surveys are filled out by university officials and not students.
"The fundamental problem with the rankings is that they substitute a slew of proxies for what really matters -- students' own reflections on their experiences and their prospects for a rewarding life after graduation," the editorial stated.
Bob Morse, director of data research for the U.S. News and World Report, said there are schools that use the rankings as a yardstick to judge improvement, but their final goal is to improve as a university.
But Morse said using the rankings as an assessment tool would not be harmful as long as graduation rates and diversity continue to improve. "The New York Times was misleading in what it implies," Morse said.
"Ohio State has an academic plan. Its goal is to improve itself as a university, not necessary as a ranking."
"I don't feel particularly uncomfortable with what these universities are doing because they are broadly focused."
But an Ohio State spokesman said there was some truth to the editorial's comments.
Lee Tashjian, Ohio State vice president of university relations, said he had a brief conversation with the university's president about the editorial.
"It did not cause much of a stir here," Tashjian said.
He said the rankings were "flakey at best" but added that the university used the rankings to help judge improvement.
In Ohio State's 2010 plan for university improvement, four of the 40 criteria specifically related to rankings.
"In that sense it would be fair to say we are certainly cognizant of these programs and want our programs ranked high in them."
The State & National Editor can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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