Paul L. Caron

Thursday, February 9, 2023

Will The Boycott Actually Strengthen The U.S. News Rankings?

Chronicle of Higher Education, How Criticism Actually Strengthens Rankings:

U.S. News Generic (2020)Why do college rankings endure? In a paper published last month, two German sociologists, Julian Hamann and Leopold Ringel, put forth a provocative hypothesis: that criticism ultimately strengthens rankers, who respond by modifying their work rather than abandoning it, which ends up reinforcing their legitimacy [The Discursive Resilience of University Rankings]. It’s like having the same argument with your spouse over who should do the dishes. In the end, it just reaffirms each of your places in the relationship.

Hamann and Ringel’s idea is especially relevant now. Over the past three months, dozens of law and medical schools have announced they will no longer cooperate with U.S. News & World Report on its rankings. The collective exodus gave law- and medical-school deans an opportunity to air their grievances with ranked lists in a high-profile way. ...

It’s been academe’s biggest protest of rankings in years. Yet could the ultimate critique — leaving the rankings — end up cementing rankers’ place in higher education? The Chronicle spoke with Hamann, a junior professor at Humboldt University of Berlin, and Ringel, a postdoctoral researcher at Bielefeld University, about how they interpret the current discontent with rankings, higher ed’s role in the rankings process, and how change could really happen. ...

Boycotting the ranking, that’s what law and medical schools in the U.S. did to U.S. News. Would you say that was an effective way of weakening the rankings?

JH: I would say it’s not an effective way of weakening rankings. I find it striking that most law-school deans criticize the rankings for their methodological shortcomings. They have concerns about whether the methodology can capture this complex experience of the exceptional learning environment and so on. Yes, they boycotted the rankings, but by issuing this methodological critique, they also gave clues on how to improve the ranking. ...

JH: Another reason why it is likely that they will rejoin the ranking is that rankings and elite institutions need each other. Rankings need the Harvards and Yales and Stanfords, just as any football league needs the top teams, because this is what draws the attention and the interest from the public, but also the elite institutions need rankings because someone has to certify their elite status. This is another reason why I find it likely that this sort of productive relation between elite institutions and rankings will survive.

U.S. News coverage:


U.S. News Response to Boycott

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