Continuing the downward slide

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Another year over and another step down.

Such is the case for the University of Calgary who, with the release of Maclean's annual survey of Canadian universities, doesn't seem to be improving in the eyes of the rest of Canada. In fact, U of C's placing in the rankings actually fell to 14th in the Medical/Doctoral category, from 12th last year. While many people on campus, most recently U of C Vice-President External

Affairs Roman Cooney, constantly downplay the results, this institution should be embarrassed--from students right up to, and especially, university administration. Your new president, Dr. Harvey Weingarten, should be hanging his head in shame.

The reality is, while university administration tries to dodge the ratings as much as possible with the attitude that they don't really matter, they should pay attention now more than ever. It's true, the rankings use attributes that some may not agree with, like first-year students' admission grades. And yes, a simple label of 14 out of a possible 15 schools simplifies the issue, ignoring areas that the U of C excels at--and in some areas, we excel quite well. However, this survey can still be used as a marking post.

If we were in the top five schools, or even the top ten for that matter, it would be easy to sidestep the results. A school ranked fourth could just as easily been ranked first, given small adjustments to the criteria. But

the U of C was 14th. Only the University of Manitoba fared worse.

Over the past year, we've seen two research-focused buildings spring up on campus and millions of dollars were pumped into improving the quality of this university. At the very least, one might expect us to retain the same quality over the course of a year. Instead, we've deteriorated, and the quality of your degree went down right along with it.

Cooney pointed out last week that many U of C initiatives, like the new Academic Plan, are still in the planning stages and won't bare results for years. But that does nothing to address concerns of students attending now, watching their education quickly become devalued. For students who hope to apply their degrees to a future career, these ratings can mean a lot. An employer in Toronto is reading those results as you read this. He doesn't care that U of C tried really, really hard, or that we have a good physical plant, nor does he care to examine the methodology behind the survey (although Maclean's happily breaks down just how they calculated the placing). He sees the U of C at the bottom of the pile and sees the University of Saskatchewan (of all schools!) two steps above. He tosses one resume in the trash and makes a decision.

This is not to say U of C administration is doing nothing right. If nothing else, these rankings show the urgent need for improvement, an opportunity the U of C, at least in principle, seems intent on taking advantage of. But whatever changes may come, most of us here now won't be around to see them.

On Wednesday, Dr. Weingarten sent an e-mail to all U of C students (reprinted below) addressing the rankings. While this is a commendable act, Weingarten simply assures students the university is going to try harder, but again, it will take some time. This is little consolation to students already attending the U of C who won't be here to see these changes pan out.

However, there is a bright side to all of this. If we continue on this slide, soon there will be no where to go but up--that is, if we don't just lay there, stuck at the bottom.