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”?