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The U.S. News and World Report college rankings are a subject of scorn for most Brown students. Unable to believe that we're the "worst" Ivy (yes, Cornell was a spot above us this year), we fulminate about how the rankings overweigh endowment size and ignore Brown's unique academic philosophy. So we aren't surprised when the Brown students interviewed by The Herald about an international university ranking system that put us at a dismal 31 expressed a great deal of skepticism about the survey's results. Our justified objections to U.S. News and World have evolved into an ingrained distrust of all college rankings.

For the most part, the international report, produced by Times Higher Education, shouldn't affect that general attitude. The biggest factors in THE's quantification scheme are hardly good metrics of what makes the "best" universities. But the fact that the
majority of the report says very little doesn't mean that we should dismiss the whole thing. Some of the findings about Brown's international reputation are disconcerting, to say the least, and ought to serve as a wakeup call to those in charge of Brown's internalization efforts.

The bulk of a university's score on the rankings come from a peer review survey in which THE asked faculty from universities around the world to list up to 30 universities in their field that they hold in the highest regard. THE then aggregated the results and rated schools on a 1-100 scale. This category was one of Brown's weakest relative to its peers, scoring an 88, while six of the seven other Ivies (we'll get to that other one in a minute, and it's not the one you think) scored a 96 or 100.

This would be troubling if the rest of the peer findings weren't so absurd. Brown scored worse on the peer review than University of Wiconsin-Madison, UCLA and University of Illinois at Urbana, all of whom are in the 90's. And Dartmouth, poor Dartmouth, scored a 58. As much as everyone likes to make fun  of Hanover, they don't deserve this. These are only a handful of the bizarre results of the peer rankings, and the survey does not disclose aggregate statistics or more specific information about which academics filled them out, where they are located or even what their fields of study are.

Taken together with the fact that teaching quality is supposed to be represented by a basic staff-student ratio (on which we score a 67 and Harvard, with all of its undergraduate teaching problems, scores a 98) and that research quality is measured only by the number of times a faculty member is cited, the THE study seems about as credible as Tom Cruise on psychology. But that's not to say that the survey is worthless.

The most valuable metrics, the percentage of faculty and students from abroad, reveal some serious shortcomings. On these two (which together make up only 10 percent of a university's score), Brown rates an unfortunate 53 and 55 respectively. That fact, in  conjunction with the evidence from the peer review that professors outside the United States apparently don't know who we are, suggests that Brown could be doing a lot better in terms of raising its international profile. While the rest of the survey is about as useful as an issue of the Spectator, we hope the University takes this last point to heart.

Editorials are written by The Herald's editorial page board. Send comments to editorials(at)


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