Harvard University Ranks Highest In … Back-Stabbing?

Universities and colleges that enjoy a high ranking in such closely-followed publications as U.S. News and World Report and The Princeton Review milk it for all its worth, despite the questionable value of such rankings.

As the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s Educational and Social Science Library points out:

Overall, there is a bit of a “can’t live with ’em, can’t live without ’em” aspect to college rankings. Colleges routinely disparage rankings but are quick to trumpet their high standing and paste the U.S. News best college graphic on their web site. Schools are even known to tinker with their admissions policies, alumni files, and other “ranking factors” in order to maintain or boost their U.S. News rating… Like them or leave them, colleges will certainly devote no less attention to rankings in the future.

Thomson Peterson’s, which itself offers a variety of college preparatory services, takes an even more critical tone:

College rankings make for good press—but that’s all.

Despite many people’s attempts to quantify colleges according to certain characteristics, many educators agree that those characteristics do not add up to any meaningful measures of quality. Further, publishing such misleading information and making a national event of it encourages colleges to shade the truth and to focus on the wrong factors in accepting students.

Rankings, in addition to being statistically problematic, distort the entire admissions process….

College rankings are irresistible and inescapable. Each year, a glut of publications seduces the entire nation with false assumptions that mislead parents and students and manipulate the entire college admissions landscape. Students have nowhere to turn except to publications offering eye-catching gimmicks and easy sound bites like “The Best Party Schools” and “Most Wired Colleges.” U.S. News & World Report, with its “America’s Best Colleges” issue, reigns as master of the rankings game. No school is immune to its influences. Reputations – not to mention application rates – can literally rise and fall according to its numbers.

Nevertheless, Harvard University’s #1 ranking no doubt goes a long way in recruiting students. Not that Harvard, considered by many the blue-blood institution of higher learning in the United States, needs any help.

Now Harvard can add a new feather to its cap — tops in academic back-stabbing.

The Economist describes Harvard University president Larry Summers’ tempestuous relationship with the university’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences and the Harvard Corporation, the university’s board, which ultimately led to his decision to resign on February 21.

Harvard likes to think of itself as the best university in the world. People who didn’t go there may beg to differ, but… Harvard proved that it is undoubtedly a world-beater in one discipline: academic back-stabbing….

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