Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Purpose of Rankings

So what purpose do rankings of philosophy departments serve?

As I mentioned earlier, I don't think they do a whole lot of good for students choosing graduate schools.

I can imagine, in some cases, that they can help particular departments bargain with university administration.

I can also imagine, in some cases, that they might help individuals bargain with administrators.

But, for the rest of us, the purpose is, I think, a lot more obvious and a lot less high-minded.

The main purpose, as far as I can see, is that the rankings give us a little secret thrill when we professional philosophers look to see where our graduate department is ranked. (If you're teaching at a graduate department, then you get an additional little secret thrill -- but most of us aren't.) I'll admit that I get that thrill, though I'm not proud of it.

It's like looking at the polls for college football and basketball teams. Who's moved up? Who's moved down? Who's higher? Your university or mine?

And, of course, the philosophy rankings share some of the same weaknesses of football rankings. Some universities will get a boost even if their team (or department) isn't that strong. Other universities won't ever be able to crack the top 10, no matter how good they are.

Fans of college football often argue that the AP and Harris polls are flawed. That's why there are computer models that are supposedly more objective. That's also why some fans call for a playoff to determine who is #1.

Maybe there's a lesson here for how the philosophy rankings could be improved. It's easy to imagine a computer ranking that would take into account, say, number of books/faculty member over a given year along with a lot of other data. Maybe in place of one team beating another, it could look at faculty members who leave one university for another. It could also measure citations. There's lots of that data out there.

If that fails there's always the playoff option.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I get a secret thrill when my unsupportive graduate department *drops* in the ranking. How perverse is that? Mmmm....the delicious taste of Schadenfreude.

2:37 PM  
Blogger Christopher Richard Wade Dettling said...

I am glad you (say that you) imagine.
Therefore, you have an imagination?
Therefore, you are special?
(If my aunt were bald she would be my uncle.)
I know many people who have absolutely no imagination.
And I know many people who are absolute mediocrities.

5:43 AM  

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