By A Nose

Jockeys wearing academic regalia racing on horseback toward "Top Ranked University" finish line

Whither the NRC study?


Vol. 8 No. 2
October/November 2005

Return to Contents

By A Nose
Jockeying in the Rankings Race

The Current Standings

Whither the NRC Study?

"I am not going to change our methods of calculation just in order to try and achieve a ranking higher than another institution."

"Part of the reason educational reputation is so important is because people—students, faculty, and administrators—derive much of their status from the status of their institution."

Graduate School and College Excellence
Does research reputation influence undergraduate rankings?

Peer Scorings and Rankings of Colleges and Graduate Programs and Research


The “Lecture Track” Reconsidered
Professional identity and aspiration among non-tenure-path faculty

Tales from the Lecture Track: Kristin Wendland, Music

Tales from the Lecture Track: Sheila Tefft, Journalism

Virtue and the Stewardship
of Academic Freedom

Reflections on ambition, conversation, and community



Many observers have criticized the National Research Council’s (NRC) heavy emphasis on reputational surveys in its highly touted 1995 study, Research-Doctorate Programs in the United States: Continuity and Change. Critics argue that the surveys are biased by a “halo effect” around academic stars and prestigious campuses and rendered obsolete by the increasingly specialized knowledge fields.

In a 2002 paper, Nancy Diamond and the late Hugh Davis Graham, co-authors of the 1997 book The Rise of American Research Universities: Elites and Challengers in the Postwar Era, called for more objective measures, such as scholarly prizes and analyses of citations of the work of faculty in a given department or program.

In 2003, the NRC appointed a panel (which included then-graduate school dean at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, Earl Lewis, now Emory’s provost) to evaluate the survey and recommend changes. The next edition will include several new knowledge fields and reflect changes in data collection, analysis, and presentation, aimed at playing down reputation and emphasizing factors such as scholarly productivity, student retention, time to degree, and placement of graduates. Between these changes and struggles to fund the study, the NRC has delayed its publication, originally
aimed for 2005, until at least September 2008.

Also, last summer, Charlotte Kuh, the NRC’s deputy executive director who oversees the study, announced that the council will be asking institutions to contribute to the funding of the study on a sliding scale. The twist: “Universities that do not contribute will not be included in the study,” Kuh wrote in an email to AE, “although there may be exceptions for institutions with very few Ph.D. programs for whom a contribution would be a financial hardship.”

“Premier Research I universities might be asked to give $15,000, smaller schools maybe $10,000, and the smallest something like $5,000,” explains Bryan Noe, Interim Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. “Cumulatively, with the large number of schools, they’re expecting to generate between one and two million dollars.”

Will the NRC be accused of engaging in a kind of influence-peddling? “It’s a rather small amount,” Noe says. “I don’t think anybody can argue that any one institution could influence its own standing.”