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UAC Calls U.S. News Rankings Arbitrary, Passes Boycott Bill

By Zareena Hussain
Staff Reporter

The Undergraduate Association Council passed a bill denouncing the ranking of colleges by U.S. News & World Report at its Monday meeting.

The bill urges the administration to withhold data from the magazine, which publishes an annual ranking of college rankings, until desired reforms are made to the current rating system to make it more fair.

A UAC special committee to investigate the U.S. News & World Report college rankings demonstrated the rankings to be highly arbitrary, said UAC Floor Leader Norris Vivatrat '99.

The rankings take into consideration several attributes like student selectivity, faculty resources, financial resources, retention and academic reputation when ranking colleges.

The committee found that the weighting of these attributes has shifted constantly from 1989 to 1996 with little or no justification.

Other schools that have passed similar resolutions recently include the California Institute of Technology, StanfordUniversity, Rice University, and the University of California at Berkeley.

Students have mixed reactions

By passing the bill, the UA will send the message that they don't approve of the "meat-market superficiality"that the U.S. News & World Report rankings are condoning, said Freshman Class President Sandra C. Sandoval '00 when she presented the bill to the council.

The bill, after a heated debate, passed by a 14-9 vote.

"I'm glad that it passed. I think the principle behind it is sound," Vivatrat said.

However, the less than overwhelming margin by which the bill passed indicates the variety of opinions on the issue of the rankings.

About half of Baker House residents approved of the bill, and half were against it, said Jennifer A. Kelly '99, Baker House representative.

Kelly, who voted against the bill, said that the overall feeling among the students whom she represents was that the rankings as they stand are not really hurting MIT.

Edgar H. Martinez '00, a member of the special committee which demonstrated that the rankings were arbitrary and subjective, also voted against the bill.

Some students "felt that by denouncing the rankings MITwould lose prestige and publicity," Martinez said.

Students worried over bill clauses

Some students also harbored concerns about some of the specific statements in the bill, Martinez said.

One clause stated that the rankings "exert tremendous influence over employers, parents, and prospective students," he said.

Some students felt that people know that the rankings should be taken with a grain of salt, Martinez said. Students felt that if the rankings are taken too seriously, the problem lies with the readers and not the rankings themselves.

Another clause that brought about concern recommended that the MIT administration cease to supply statistics to the magazine for its report until the rankings are no longer found to be problematic by the UA and MIT.

Many students felt this requirement would only result in another set of rankings that, although pleasing to UA, could only be arbitrary and subjective as well, Martinez said.

Concerns about the bill's interference with freedom of speech were also raised at the meeting.

"We as the UA of MIThave no right to tell a magazine what to do," said UAC Representative Stephanie M. Zielenski '97.

Others, like UA Vice President Dedric A. Carter '97, said that the UAhad not only the right, but the responsibility to address the rankings process.