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Duke is for Yale rejects

“Duke is for Yale rejects.” Those were the first words little, early-decision Gracie heard when she ventured through the doors of Southgate dorm for Blue Devil Days. Yup, it seems we Dukies just can’t stop making such sexy comparisons, even for the most virgin of ears.

And why would we? All our lives we’ve been cream-of-the-crop, all-star, mathlete, 4.0-earning, grant-earning, baby-saving, novel-writing freaks. We could take an AP test with our eyes closed and all but forget what fresh air smells like.

Comparison intrigues us. It puts us on a pedestal above the rest. It gives us something to strive for. And, more often not, we have come out on top.

U.S. News and World Report released its 2013 list of best colleges earlier this week. Duke jumped up from the number 10 spot to eighth. My first instinct? Share the article on Facebook with an obligatory “GO DUKE!” label. Huzzah!

But then, I read the article.

Half, ladies and gentlemen, half of our blurb was unceremoniously allocated to the UNC-Duke basketball rivalry. Don’t get me wrong, I’m as hot for Curry as the next Crazie, but seriously?! How is this informing people’s college decisions? How is this a fair depiction of all Duke has to offer? Oh right, it’s not. Which is why I find the list’s alleged purpose highly amusing: “The editors of U.S. News believe that students and their families should have as much information as possible.” Really now? This is comparison gone too far.

Already, the list is receiving backlash from the Los Angeles Times. California, per usual, knows what’s up.

The report is largely a compilation of data and surveys generated by the universities themselves—a method that may lend itself to data manipulation. But even apart from the fishy methodology and the often-extraneous factors considered, my question remains, why ranking? Why numbers? Why Harvard and Yale?

Crimson is just peachy. And I guess John Harvard is kinda cool. The crest is neat. But what hard and fast data makes U.S. News and World Report so convinced that a Yalie’s education is superior to our own?

So I did my homework. The “widely accepted indicators” include but are not limited to graduation rate, SAT/ACT scores, financial aid packages and surveys of academics. Let me sum it up for you. Numbers are based on numbers. The rankings are based on reputation and data points. The alumni donations rate makes up 5 percent of the equation, allegedly an indirect measure of overall student satisfaction. Daddy 1% sends fat check to alma mater: nostalgia or nepotistic nudge? Bogus criterion alert.

I get that money matters and statistics are nice tools but if you’re going to tell me this list ranks the “best” colleges, I’m not buying it.

This is not to say there isn’t a spectrum of quality among universities. Of course there is. But until you put third party data collectors into the classrooms, it doesn’t take a Prattstar to tell that something doesn’t quite add up.

And yet, until today I bought it. I bought it because Duke is ranked eighth in the country. I bought it because it was in U.S. News and World Report.

It’s so easy when things are going well to forget to reflect. Smooth sailing obscures careful evaluation. Doesn’t a $32 billion endowment and kick ass reputation completely secure Harvard’s VIP status when evaluated by these criteria? Such a rubric is misleading and hurts the incentive to improve, an invitation to rest on your laurels and lean on your legacy.

This list raises important questions. About colleges, sure. But even more than that, about academia and the way in which we are evaluated inside and out of it.

One element of the rubric factors in high school counselors’ ratings of the colleges. Why do guidance counselors get a say? My guidance counselor didn’t know her honors from her APs.

I just don’t get it. Why the obsession with numbers? Okay, I’m biased. Math 31 was far and beyond my lowest grade at Duke. I cringe at the sight of a TI-80 anything, and logarithms make me nauseous. But still, how can our college experiences—our professors, our classes, our knowledge, our beloved campus be ranked on numbers alone? Number eight. I reject it.

Gracie Willert is a Trinity junior. Her column runs every other Friday.

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