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UA Pushes for Boycott of U.S. News Rankings

By Kyle Young
Staff Reporter

The Undergraduate Association Council proposed a resolution at its meeting Monday to urge administrators to boycott the U.S. News & World Report college ranking system.

If the resolution passes, the UA would urge administrators to withhold the data used by U.S. News & World Report to determine its rankings. The proposed resolution will be up for a vote on Nov. 18 at the council's next meeting.

President of the Class of 2000 Sandra C. Sandoval '00 and UA Floor Leader Norris Vivatrat '99 first proposed the bill after a similar bill had been passed at Stanford University. Yale University, the school ranked first this year by U.S. News & World Report this year, is in the process of passing a similar resolution, said UA President Richard Y. Lee '97.

The schools ranked in the top six by the magazine are all considering similar plans.

Each year, U.S. News & World Report publishes a ranking of undergraduate colleges. A wide variety of criteria is used to determine the rankings, including many statistics obtained from surveys of individual colleges. MITwas ranked fifth in this year's survey.

Rankings considered arbitrary

The bill concerning the rankings states that "numerous investigations by major newspapers, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Chicago Tribune, show that some colleges manipulate data to their advantage." The bill also said that the U.S. News & World Report rankings are widely read and influential even though the rankings are "highly arbitrary and subjective."

Because "these rankings have influenced academic, institutional, and financial decisions of university administrations to the possible detriment of student welfare," the bill proposes that the UA officially denounce the U.S. News & World Report rankings.

During the open discussion, two major points against the rankings were raised - that the methods used to determine the rankings are arbitrary and that the methods are based on inaccurate data.

"Statistics show that schools actually manipulate data," Sandoval said. "There is nothing that we actually have the power to do We want to urge administrators to withhold information."

Bill also aims to publicize issue

The UA would demand that U.S. News reform both its rankings and its methods of ranking to eliminate the use of false data.

If the resolution is passed, the UAwould send press releases to various administrative offices at the Institute, Lee said. Lee also suggested that The Boston Globe may eventually interview MIT on the protest against the college rankings.

It is not clear that administrators will comply with the proposal, Lee said. However, the UA must at least share it views on the rankings with the administrators, Lee said.

Lee does not expect any immediate impact on the rankings but feels that it is important for the UA to publicize its objections.

"The excellence of our faculty and students, our strong reputation, and our outstanding resource base lead MIT to rank extremely well," said President Charles M. Vest. "I believe that we are indeed in the very top handful of universities, but to split hairs and order this group in detail doesn't mean much."

"The metrics used and the survey of experts are all reasonable ones, but their use to declare detailed, ordered rankings of institutions is pretty meaningless," Vest said. "The fluctuations in the ordered rankings from one year to the next demonstrates this."

Although Vest noted that "admissions appear to be positively impacted" by MIT's high ranking, he specifically said that he does not use the ranking to set goals for MIT's improvement.