September 15, 1997
Volume 50, No. 4
Bill Fox, vice president for institutional advancement, told the Atlanta Business Chronicle that he "almost drove off the road" when he heard of Emory's Top 10 party school ranking from the Princeton Review. He was not alone. Many people who heard or read about that "distinction" on Aug. 20 were incredulous.
The list is actually one of many that the Review publishes in its annual guide, The Best 311 Colleges, and on its web site. But the party list gets all the press, said Evan Schnittman, editor-in-chief of the Review's publishing division. "For two years now I've debated pulling out because it's not something that represents what the book's about," he said in a telephone interview from his New York office. He admitted, however, that pulling the party list from the book means "zero press."
Schnittman said that reaction to the list has "turned ugly this year. . . . And people are questioning our research." But, he said, "This isn't research."
Therein lies the problem. Few journalists have questioned the methodology that goes into creating the list, but it isn't scientific. And university administrators such as Campus Life Dean Frances Lucas-Taucher have found themselves on national news programs defending their institutions against information that Schnittman himself termed invalid. "We process the information scientifically, but we never make any claims that this research is scientifically valid," he said.
Lucas-Taucher said most people who heard about the ranking took it as a joke. She did spend some time reassuring anxious parents from far away, who took the list a bit more seriously. "I think it's really irresponsible," she said of the list's publication. "It's tabloid, which is completely inappropriate for any institutional ranking."
To obtain the information, the Review simply hires temps around the country to sit on college campuses for a few hours and question about 100 students. Schnittman said the survey results at most capture a snapshot of a campus on the particular day the questioner is there.
The question here at Emory is: Did they come at all? Meeting Services Manager Jari Grimm said the Princeton Review contacted her to reserve space at the Dobbs Center on Feb. 6 of this year, but the group never paid for the space and no one representing them showed up that day. Schnittman said he didn't know for sure what happened, and he didn't follow through with promises to find out. He did say that he is "ethically and morally against [hiring temps] from here on out" and that he plans to hire students in the future.
Schnittman also claimed to have raised an eyebrow at the rankings. "Trinity and Emory as No. 5 and No. 7 party schools? That's a little ridiculous when you have schools like Southern Illinois University, which has an unbelievable reputation in the Chicago area as being the party school of Illinois," he said.
So, how best to take this ranking? Try it with a grain of salt.