Interview: Knapp discusses unranking

University President Steven Knapp spoke with The Hatchet hours after U.S. News & World Report announced GW would be removed from the magazine’s 2013 rankings. The content of this interview has been edited for length.

Hatchet: What did you think when you first heard the news?

Steven Knapp: I was surprised because all indications we received last week, and statements from U.S. News were quoted as saying, it’d be at most a small change in the rankings to result from this corrected data. We were expecting a small change, we were not expecting to be taken off the ranking.

Hatchet: What will this mean for the upcoming admissions season and in the long term?

Knapp: What we need to do is focus on our mission and do the best we can, continue to improve the institution, and we hope that the rankings will follow and reflect that. But we also know the rankings are, you know, it’s a one-size-fits-all system. I think it’s important not to get hung up on rankings. I’m not just saying that now because we found this error in our methodology and reported it to U.S. News, but it’s something I’ve always said consistently.

Hatchet: Claremont McKenna and Emory both held their rankings after they intentionally misreported data. Do you think U.S. News is making a statement here?

Knapp: They’ve given us no information about their motivation in doing this. I have no way of interpreting it. It was a methodological error that we found and corrected. It was surprising that we were treated differently.

Hatchet: Do you think the crime fits the punishment then?

Knapp: I don’t think it does, insofar as we expected a small adjustment, and we got taken off the ranking. Those don’t strike me as being equivalent. If what U.S. News itself told us was a small adjustment in our ranking, it seems to me that they then take a different action than what they themselves predicted they would take, it seems to me that it would not be a proportionate response.

Hatchet: Do you think people in the GW community will feel that this impacts the value of a GW degree?

Knapp: We’ll just have to weather the short-term fallout, whatever it is.You have to let the chips fall as they may, but you sort of hope you’ll be treated fairly and people will understand the situation and people will realize that this was one very tiny part of the university that made the mistake and won’t just the whole university based on the mistake made by one part of it.

Hatchet: Is anyone in the Office of Admissions going to be held accountable?

Knapp: Since we do not comment on personnel actions, I will say that people are being held accountable, that the people who were responsible for this data are the ones not currently handling the data, and we are reviewing this from outside the admissions office, so we have a check on all that data.

Hatchet: Are you at all angry about this?

Knapp: I’m surprised by the reaction but I wouldn’t think of myself as angry about it as it involved an emotional engagement with the issue of ranking that I think is not appropriate. I think it’s understandable that people would be upset about something like this, so no I don’t in any way criticize their reaction and I’m certainly not surprised by it.

Hatchet: Is there any way you can give closure to this issue?

Knapp: I think it’s making sure our data is accurate from now on, to continue to improve the institution. We’re hoping the ranking will catch up with the quality of the institution as we improve the institution and move the institution over time, hire stronger and stronger faculty, admit really great students, have a greater geographical reach, how a global presence, all the things we’re doing at the University. That’s the way to deal with it and bring closure to it and rise above it.

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