The Princeton Review released its rankings this week of the nation's top universities in 63 different categories, and Duke ranked in the top 20 in eight of the categories.
Positive highlights of the rankings included seventh in the best overall academic experience for undergraduates category, sixth in diversity of student population, and fourth in the "students pack the stadium" category. Lowlights included the number of teaching assistants teaching upper-level courses (12th), strained university-city relations (4th) and "alternative lifestyles not an alternative" (11th).
As usual with such rankings, however, University officials cautioned that they must be taken with a grain of salt.
"Rankings like these can serve a useful purpose if you put them in the right context," said Robert Thompson, dean of Trinity College. "We certainly consider ourselves one of the 10 best universities in the country, but rankings like these are subjective."
Vice President for Student Affairs Larry Moneta dismissed the rankings outright.
"I think they're foolish. I don't put any stock in them," Moneta said. "I do not know the exact process but I do not think that they are sufficiently thorough."
According to The Princeton Review--an organization that provides standardized test preparation courses, books and other services for college-bound students--100,158 students at 345 colleges were asked to fill out a 70-question survey about their institutions. The company estimates that on average 300 students per campus were surveyed.
"Not only do they not represent objective reality, they don't even represent a scientifically-valid sample of opinion," said Director of Undergraduate Admissions Christoph Guttentag. "That's not to say that they're necessarily wrong, but we can't rely on them as accurate indicators of student opinion."
Guttentag conceded, however, that the Princeton Review rankings are not reductive like those of U.S. News and World Report, which uses weighted statistics to compile top 50 and tiered lists of the nation's top universities and colleges each fall. Duke was ranked eighth last year in that poll; this year's rankings are due out Sept. 16.
Notwithstanding their misgivings, some of the individual rankings surprised administrators, while others seemed on target.
"[The university-city relations ranking] in particular really mystifies me, simply because in my observations and conversations with students I haven't perceived the sort of tension between the city and the University that that ranking implies," Guttentag said.
Duke Student Government President Joshua Jean-Baptiste agreed, noting that a poor off-campus social scene does not necessarily correlate to strained relations. He praised efforts by the entire Duke community to reach out and improve its dynamic with Durham.
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Thompson also pointed to the TA ranking as misleading because TAs are mostly leading discussion sections of large courses, and those who do teach upper-level courses are teaching in a discipline in which they are working on their dissertations.
Duke's ranking as No. 10 on the list of "jock schools" was called into question by Jean-Baptiste.
"Duke's athletic program is very strong, but [athletic powerhouse] Stanford is not even in the top 20," he said. "That leads me to question if it is a random selection of students and if it is, how accurate are the results."
As for the other positive rankings, however, both Guttentag and Jean-Baptiste agreed with Duke's standing, and both were particularly pleased with the diversity ranking.
Duke made eight of The Princeton Review?s rankings on college life, based on interviews with 100,000 students nationwide.
4th: students pack the stadiums
7th: best overall academic experience for undergraduates
16th: toughest to get into
12th: teaching assistants teach too many upper-level classes
10th: jock school
11th: alternative lifestyles not an alternative
6th: diverse student population
4th: town-gown relations strained