The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Tuesday October 26th

Education by The Numbers: The Rankings

Do students care if higher education is being fundamentally mucked up? Zip on that one, too.

Let's rephrase the last two questions: Anyone care if your college education is being manipulated by U.S. News? Maybe a bit.

Here's the lowdown -- the rankings are affecting you personally. Don't believe me? Pull out your last tuition bill -- it increased drastically since the 1995 and 1999 tuition hikes, a result of the rankings.

In 1999, a member of the Board of Trustees walked into a meeting with an issue of U.S. News ranking us as the fifth best public university in the country. Two years after that fateful meeting, we're still paying off that $600 increase.

How many more increases are we going to take? Will UNC continue to hike up tuition until we've bought the number one ranking?

Compare the 2001 and 2002 U.S. News rankings:

2001
1t. Berkeley
1t. Virginia
3t. Michigan
3t. UCLA
3t. UNC

2002
1. Berkeley
2. Virginia
3. Michigan
4. UCLA
5. UNC

The only real change I see is that UNC actually fell from third to fifth place during the first year the tuition increase was implemented.

When UNC rose from fifth to third in 2001, the administration hailed the leap as a victory. Come on, if this were an ESPN poll everyone would see right through it -- our ranking didn't improve.

Wednesday's State of the University address came in perfect timing -- 24 hours before the new rankings were released. Our chancellor said,"If you must, read what the magazine has to say about us, but let us not for a second be diverted by these arbitrary and artificial ratings from the substance of our vision for excellence." Fine, let's not be diverted.

Coincidentally, about a week ago The New York Times published an editorial stating that our school created strategies specifically intended to boost our rankings. Bravo, Heels -- we're officially tools. But hey, at least we're not diverted from our mission toward excellence.

The Times made an awesome point about the rankings -- our number fluctuates year to year because U.S. News changes its methodology for rating schools each year. The Times cited the California Institute of Technology as their example -- it went from first to second to eighth in a matter of three years because of changing criteria.

In UNC's quest to be number one, at any (tuition) cost, will the administration change its strategy every time U.S. News tweaks its methodology? Let's say one year U.S. News valued parking over faculty salaries -- are we going to raise tuition to pay for a new parking deck?

We've all become sickly familiar with academia's newest buzzword: the peer institution. UNC has spent more time in the past two years worrying what our peer institutions are doing than looking into what we need to be doing.

UNC has formed a habit of "borrowing" programs from our peer institutions in order to keep up with their progress, and, at this rate, we'll never be on top. We'll be too busy trying to keep up.

When will enough be enough? It's like a new spin on what your mama always told you: If Berkeley jumped off a cliff, would you? Somewhere along the line, UNC quit valuing education and started playing a numbers game. Now we're all losing. UNC has a wealth of academic innovation. If only it would look inward to find it instead of ripping it off from wankers from Virginia.

As students, we intuitively know that we're the best public university -- let's make our administration think the same. I challenge you to take ten minutes out of your next class or meeting and list solid ideas that would make UNC a better place for you. Send me your ideas -- I'll not only publish the good ones, I'll hand them to Moeser.

Our highest achievement as a university would be to live up to our tradition. We're all familiar with the commercial in which Charles Kuralt intones, "Our love for this place stems from the fact that it is as it was meant to be: The University of the People." Right now we are The University of the Rankings.

Rachel Hockfield is a political science major from Charlotte. This weekend she will burn her copy of US News & World Report (graduate school edition). Reach her at rachel@email.unc.edu.

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