In Response to: The Rankings Mishegoss

Bravo to President Eisgruber ’83’s fine essay, “The Rankings Mishegoss” (President’s Page, November issue). It would have been so easy to simply bask in the glow of Princeton being No. 1 in the U.S. News & World Report rankings once again. But he bluntly recognizes that the survey, like so many other similar reports, is a flawed mishegoss.

The U.S. News college survey’s methodology includes evaluation of the following weighted factors: retention of freshmen and students overall, 20 percent; faculty resources, 20 percent; student selectivity, 15 percent;  financial resources, 10 percent;  graduation rate performance, 7.5 percent; and alumni giving rate, 5 percent. Fair enough. 

But the most significant weight in the ranking formula goes to the opinions of those in a position to judge a school's undergraduate academic excellence (a whopping 22.5 percent). According to the magazine, the academic peer assessment survey allows top academics — presidents, provosts, and deans of admissions — to account for intangibles at peer institutions such as faculty dedication to teaching.

Critics argue this last, heavily weighted factor is too subjective and severely skews the survey results. As one observer commented, “When U.S. News asks a university president to perform the impossible task of assessing the relative merits of dozens of institutions he knows nothing about, he relies on the only source of detailed information at his disposal that assesses the relative merits of dozens of institutions he knows nothing about: U.S. News. Thus, the U.S. News ratings become a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

Of course, I’m proud of Princeton’s No. 1 ranking in this highly regarded national survey of the nation’s best colleges and universities. I’m sure all Princetonians join in applauding our alma mater for this magnificent recognition.

But, frankly, I’m inclined to keep my #1 foam finger in retirement until Princeton breaks into the top 10 of Playboy magazine’s annual survey of the top “party” schools in the nation. That just might be a long wait.

Gerald D. Skoning ’64
Juno Beach, Fla.