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No denying rankings matter

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Posted: Friday, August 24, 2007 12:00 am

Recently, U.S. News and World Report ranked UF as the 17th best public university in the country. Last year, UF was ranked No. 13 by the report, and UF President Bernie Machen was spearheading an aggressive campaign to get UF into the Top 10. Machen's obsession with the rankings was almost nauseating. Now Machen says, "The reality is, our change in the academic rankings is insignificant."

What? How is a rankings drop insignificant? Of course, I agree that we should not pursue a Top 10 ranking like it is the holy grail of academic accomplishment, but that does not mean we should abandon the quest altogether. Like most students, I don't see a Top 10 ranking as an end by which we justify other means, such as creating smaller class sizes. We shouldn't say we need smaller class sizes so we can get into the Top 10. We should have smaller class sizes for the virtue of increased interpersonal student-teacher interaction. If smaller class sizes help us get into the Top 10, then that's just icing on the cake.

To say the rankings are insignificant ignores the fact that a lot of us students actually do use these rankings. Every one of us has looked at the school rankings sometime in our lives. Nearly all of us have looked up the rankings of various college majors by their starting salaries after graduation. While we probably do not choose our colleges or majors by these rankings, at the very least, we consider them.

We also like to cite them to our friends, family and potential employers. What's more satisfying than nonchalantly mentioning UF's high academic ranking to our FSU friends who think they are hot stuff because they beat our bench team in a regular season basketball game? We are sports fans with brains, and we like to show it.

Some people say the main criteria used to compare schools are arbitrary. For example, factors like alumni giving rates are compared beside things like student-adviser ratios. Certainly, the ranking system is not perfect and many of the most important categories do seem to be chosen arbitrarily. However, that does not mean we shouldn't strive to excel in those categories as well. Why should we not actively pursue a high alumni giving rate? If we do well in all categories, we will rank highly regardless of which categories are chosen.

I would love to see UF in the Top 10. California hogs up so many of the top spots - six of its universities are ranked higher than UF - that it makes me wonder why we can't have at least one Florida school ranked that highly. It just seems to me UF can do much better than a No. 17 ranking.

Let's continue going for a Top 10 ranking, but let's not obsess over it. Let's obsess over hiring more professors and advisers. Let's obsess over creating more course offerings with smaller classes. Let's save the humanities in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and attract more donations from alumni. After we accomplish all these objectives, we will be assured a Top 10 spot. Finally, after we earn the high ranking we can add it to our trophy case and casually brush it off like "it ain't nothin' but a thing."

Danny Beaulieu is a philosophy junior.

Welcome to the discussion.