A useless analysis

By Lawrence Bailey

Same old, same old, we just got bent over by Maclean’s. Or was it administration? Or the government? The Students’ Union? No matter, apparently our degrees are just as worthless as they were last year. Ho hum.

But wait one second. When, exactly, did the heavily ad-subsidized ramblings of a popular national magazine determine the academic value of one’s efforts?

There is an inherent problem with the annual Maclean’s university rankings, a few really, but the most glaring is the ignorance of individual programs. Year in and year out, big and/or old schools dominate the tables. This year, the universities of Guelph and Toronto, along with Saint Francis Xavier University, were given the golden nod as tops in the land. This year, the University of Calgary was yet again relegated to the basement, finishing 14 of 15 in the medical/doctoral designation.

Why is that? Why is it that we’re shit kicked every year?

Why don’t we take a closer look?

The ranking scheme drawn up by the powers that be at Maclean’s breaks a valuable university experience into six neat compartments, weighted differently. Library (12 per cent) and finances (12 per cent) play lesser roles, classes (17 per cent), faculty (17 per cent) and reputation (19 per cent) are the heart of the evaluation, while student body (23 per cent) is apparently the top dog, the most important of all.

This is fair. For the vast majority, a truly great university experience is contingent on who you spend time with, who challenges you mentally and who pushes you to notch that extra per cent or two on every exam. But the majority of the other qualifiers are woefully skewed to older, more established institutions.

It’s easier to have a financial cushion, top-notch libraries busting at the seams with information, and a national reputation when you’ve been around forever. On that basis, the U of C will never succeed for the simple reason that no matter how old we get, the U of T will always be older. So will the University of Alberta. So will the bulk of the schools we’re up against.

So, how can we effectively compare institutions from coast-to-coast?

We can’t.

Simply put, schools are all at different stages of development and meet the different needs of the different communities they represent. A much better approach, one feebly attempted by Maclean’s, who only recognize three types of schools (undergraduate, comprehensive and medical/doctoral), is to compare programs from coast-to-coast.

Were Maclean’s truly keen on serving their readership, they would not compare institutions, except on a level of school spirit and possibly bursaries, they would compare programs. Never mind which school is better overall between the U of T and the U of C, people want to know which school offers the best education in the specific field they are pursuing.

Where should they go for an international relations degree? Which undergraduate biology program has the most lab time? Where will they get the best practical business degree? What about the best theoretical business degree?

You won’t have a school that is good at everything, nor will you have one that is bad at everything (even Olds Community College has a great Agricultural Technologies program). Many in administration here at the U of C have realized this fact and they’ve made it known: the U of C will be a research-oriented institution, focusing increasingly on graduate and post-graduate students. Take it or leave it.

While I am in no way letting Harvey and his gang off the hook–there are many reasons why the U of C is still languishing near the bottom of many relevant categories in the Maclean’s survey–I want to limit the amount of Chicken Little-ism that seems to infest this campus every November.

The U of C is a tremendous school in many ways–more than just its Physical Plant. It is also a terrible school in many ways. Unfortunately, Maclean’s doesn’t see fit to offering the information needed to determine what’s good and what’s bad on this, or any campus.

It seems they’ve left the real research in our hands, to be determined daily as we shuffle out of our classes. It seems we are the lone evaluators of the education we’re receiving.

Are you fulfilled? Are you satisfied? If not, why are you still here?

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