Saumya Narechania: Reconsidering rankings

Like most confused 17-year olds, I turned to the U.S. News and World Report rankings along with any other random grading systems I could find online when deciding what university I should attend. It took me four years to realize that the rankings did not really matter and I was stupid for blindly taking them at face value. Of course, since nobody knows this in high school, any attempt by a university to modify the deceiving rankings in its favor might be justified. However, the School of Business attempt to skew Business Weeks’s rankings was far from ethical, and even, I’d say as pointless, unnecessary and self-centered as drawing hate symbols on your own door.

GW’s business school made news last week for reportedly breaking the rules that Business Week put forward regarding a student survey they distributed. The results of the poll will account for 30 percent of the magazine’s rankings of business schools nationwide. I can understand the motivations of trying to boost GW’s ratings because so many people care about them. I cannot say that trying to do so via an e-mail encouraging students to give positive feedback was fair to prospective students, current students or the school itself.

The school, if it truly wants to improve, needs honest and open feedback from students and needs to actively implement the suggestions of any and all those surveyed. The current students have a vested interest in their degree, but to coerce them into giving positive feedback conflicts with their vested interest in improving their institution. Prospective students are cheated because they pay attention to these rankings. Ranking systems all across the country are flawed; Tony Romo was not ranked on any lists and went undrafted, but he was arguably one botched field goal away from a Super Bowl appearance. This culture is obsessed with polling, surveying and ranking even though time and time again, these systems show their numerous flaws.

GW is almost as interesting of a case study for college ratings systems as Anne Coulter is for gender studies. Our University is unique because we are in the midst of business networks, federal government bureaus, lobbying firms and Congress. Every student takes advantage of these opportunities through lucrative internships and shadowing opportunities. But, often overlooked, the University takes advantage of this environment, as well, through the use of large percentage of adjunct faculty.

Adjunct faculty are generally paid less, are normally not full-time professors, and might not have the highest, terminal degree in their field due to extensive work experience. These three categories make up a whopping 11 percent of the total U.S. News and World Report rankings, even if only the first two categories have a legitimate skewing aspect, they account for 8 percent of the total rankings. If there was this amount of inconsistency in presidential polling, Mike Gravel might be perceived as a front-runner.

The use of adjunct faculty should not penalize this, or any other university. For example, GW employs professors ranging from Steven Roberts, a former ABC News and New York Times correspondent, practicing columnist and media roundtable staple to Lawrence Wilkerson, the former chief-of-staff to Colin Powell and a recent guest on shows such as The Colbert Report and Real Time with Bill Maher. Educational experiences with professors such as these add to the dynamics of a university but many rankings systems fail to accurately gauge this effect.

GW is a different university because it is less entrenched in academia and frequently teaches how to practice in a field. It becomes a personal question whether someone would rather be learning from Sam Huntington or Francis Fukuyama at The Kennedy School or Ambassador Edward “Skip” Gnehm at the Elliott School.

Instead of trying to beat the skewed rankings system by manipulating Business Week’s survey, the business school should focus on tangible reasons why prospective students should consider coming to D.C. From the newly constructed Duques Building to interesting adjunct faculty like Susan Aaronson quoted in publications ranging from The Economist to Financial Times, and yes, Business Week, too.

The writer, a senior majoring in conflict and security, is a Hatchet columnist.

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