Archive for Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Rankings matter

It’s a competitive world, and officials need to strive to make Kansas University among the best universities in the country.

August 25, 2009


In the eyes of some at Kansas University, it really doesn’t matter where KU academic units rank in comparison with similar efforts at other universities — or, for that matter, how KU ranks overall in comparison with other public universities.

Each year, U.S. News and World Reports releases a comprehensive study and ranking of public universities. In the latest report, KU is sixth in the Big 12 Conference, tied with Nebraska, and 43rd nationally among public universities. It is 96th nationally among all universities, public and private. Those ranked below KU in the Big 12 are Missouri, Oklahoma, Kansas State, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech.

According to some senior academic officials at KU, rankings such as this are not that important and shouldn’t be looked upon as a true measure of the excellence of an institution. One official said KU is focused on its own agenda and is driven by its new chancellor, not by rankings. He added that rankings are a good mirror but “they’re not the only mirror that we have.”

One of the reasons rankings are of such interest to those concerned about the growth, excellence and future of KU is that former KU Chancellor Robert Hemenway, early in his administration, put great emphasis on having KU ranked in the top 25 of all state-aided universities within 10 years and, after reaching that goal, aim for the top 25 of all U.S. universities.

Unfortunately, during those years, KU fell in the U.S. News rankings, rather than climbing to greater heights.

It’s difficult to understand why there are those at KU who try to downplay academic rankings. Such thinking recalls the efforts by some not that long ago who did not want students in public schools to be listed in order of their academic record because it would make those at the lower end of the scale feel bad or embarrassed. The same thinking prompted some, again, not too many years ago, to forgo scores being kept or listed in athletic contests among younger competitors. In their eyes, the competition was good, but there should be no stigma attached to losing. It hurt feelings.

It’s obvious there are strong differences on Mount Oread about the importance of rankings and being a “winner” rather than just a participant or competitor.

Maybe Bill Self and his basketball players shouldn’t be overly concerned about Big 12 or national rankings. Maybe Coach Mangino and his football players shouldn’t aim for another bowl appearance. Maybe both teams should just play the games and not care who wins.

Even those in the most pure academic posts of the university acknowledge winning athletic teams seem to encourage interested alumni and friends to be more generous in their private giving to the school.

It’s interesting how KU officials like to note when a team or individual — such as the national championship KU debate team — is recognized for excellence or winning but try to play down the importance of “rankings.”

All Kansans should be excited and enthused by the drive and vision of those at KU Hospital who have worked hard and successfully to lift the hospital from near the bottom of U.S. teaching hospitals to its current ranking among the top five or 10 such hospitals.

What if those in the hospital business really didn’t care about rankings or matters such as mortality rates, effectiveness of care, costs, patient satisfaction, length of time in hospital care and other yardsticks.

Competition is ingrained in this country, and it is hoped all those at KU who make a real difference will renew and strengthen their efforts to make all facets of the institution strive to be the best — the best in the state and among true flagship Big 12 schools and nationally recognized as one of the nation’s finest state-aided universities.

Competition and rankings are good and serve as a goal and challenge for individuals, companies, athletic teams and even universities. Those who pooh-pooh rankings usually are those who lack ability or don’t have the confidence and ability to try to do better.

Who wants to settle for being merely an “also ran”?


Phillbert 8 years, 9 months ago

"Even those in the most pure academic posts of the university acknowledge winning athletic teams seem to encourage interested alumni and friends to be more generous in their private giving to the school."

So sports now help the university? Because we've been subjected to editorial after editorial telling us that KU is too focused on sports and that KU Athletics takes resources away from academics.

We all know the LJW is going to take every opportunity to bash KU, but it can at least be consistent about it.

davidsmom 8 years, 9 months ago

The U.S. News rankings are not only about academics. If you analyzed the methodology, you would understand that it is about a lot more, including things that really aren't a worthy reflection of an institution's strengths. More and more universities across the country are downplaying rankings. There is even a trend to boycott the questionnaires. While I agree it would be NICE to be ranked higher, it is not all it's cracked up to be. Pooh-poohing rankings doesn't mean you don't have the ability or confidence to do better. The Journal-World editors should start reading The Chronicle of Higher Education every day to get a more realistic sense of what rankings really mean.

myvotecounts 8 years, 9 months ago

I agree that these overall rankings matter, and should matter to KU's leaders. I suspect more prospective students and donors are tuned into the US News rankings than the Chronicle of Higher Education.

KU_cynic 8 years, 9 months ago

KU can't jump in the rankings without outspending higher ranked schools on faculty salaries and academic facilities. Yes, the new money would have to be carefully spent in a targeted way. E.g., KU's ranking would not improve if every incumbent faculty member were to get a big raise, anymore than the KC Royals' win-loss record would improve if every player currently on the roster were paid like NY Yankees. But, massive amounts of new funds are needed.

Where will these resources come from?

From state revenues? Not likely, given the short-term problems with state revenues and the long-term problems with liabilities like the underfunded KPERS pension liability.

From higher tuition? In part, but regents and legislators have had about enough of catching up with the Joneses in terms of tuition increases.

From massive amounts of grant funding? Yes, but that's a chicken-and-egg problem; KU needs to hire higher octane research faculty capable of competing more effectively for more grant money.

The answer must lie in private donations, and KU is overdue for a billion dollar capital campaign.

But, is there really a donor base capable of delivering a billion dollars over the next five years?

I have my doubts, based on the relatively anemic rate of academic fundraising accomplished by KU over the past several years.

Alison Carter 8 years, 9 months ago

No need to belittle those who disagree with you....."Those who pooh-pooh rankings usually are those who lack ability or don’t have the confidence and ability to try to do better."

There are opportunity costs to playing to the rankings/awards. Balance is always a good thing.

Jack Martin 8 years, 9 months ago

I can only assume this editorial is based on this story from last week:

I’m perplexed as to how a University of Kansas leader saying the university was proud to be in these rankings has been twisted by this editorial into the claim that rankings are disregarded. The fact that we routinely tout the high rankings of many of our academic programs should make it obvious that KU quite frequently uses rankings as one measure of success.

KU routinely benchmarks its performance against many different rankings and other measures to mark its strategic goals, which is how we know that this editorial is simply inaccurate when it claims that KU’s U.S. News ranking fell under Chancellor Hemenway.

Of course, as this editorial spells out in its mention of the University of Kansas Hospital, rankings are only one measure of success. Just as the national basketball champion is determined on the court, not by who is ranked #1 in a poll, KU’s ultimate success is determined in our classrooms and laboratories, and in the lives of our graduates.

Jack Martin University Communications

myvotecounts 8 years, 9 months ago

Did KU's US News rankings go up, down or stay the same while Hemenway was chancellor? The Editorial Board says "KU fell in the US News rankings"; the KU Communications spokesman says that is "simply inaccurate."

pusscanthropus 8 years, 9 months ago

Hopefully the new chancellor will be able to figure out that KU can't continue selling itself as a great deal in undergrad education when it wants to be a research university. Because if it's a research university, the best professors teach graduate courses and leave the undergrad courses to their teaching assistants. If I'm not mistaken, the number of professors teaching undergrads is one of the measures in this ranking. Also the freshman attrition rate is a measure and KU has a big problem in that area.

Jack Martin 8 years, 9 months ago

myvotecounts - In the U.S. News overall rankings, KU was 102nd among all public and private universities when Chancellor Hemenway started. In the 2010 rankings that just came out, KU is 96th.

There are, of course, a variety of other rankings that U.S. News and other publications put out, with new ones added all the time. For example, the separate public university rankings in U.S. News didn't start until their 1998 set of rankings and they also now rank more graduate programs than they used to.

uofk03 8 years, 9 months ago

Thank goodness we have Jack Martin around to refute all the bull that comes out of Dolph's mouth.

milehighhawk 8 years, 9 months ago

Know what I learned at KU?

"In the eyes" is a stupid way to begin an article.

Paul R Getto 8 years, 9 months ago

"KU_cynic (Anonymous) says… "KU can't jump in the rankings without outspending higher ranked schools on faculty salaries and academic facilities." ====== That's the key to much of this. KU has been losing some of their best teachers for decades. They almost always significantly increased their salaries and often joined stronger departments with better working conditions in other universities. Money isn't everything, however, and many outstanding folks have stayed when they didn't have to. You can only sell the pretty campus and the fact that Lawrence is "special" so much.......then it falls flat and lots of superstars leave. PS: Rock Chalk ! !

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