Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Ranking a Giant’s Demise

The U.S. News and World Report rankings should not matter. But they do.

Georgetown has been struggling lately, and if things do not turn around, after this semester we may fall out of the rankings. Forever.

Last semester, we slid into a 25th-place tie with UCLA. That means that if UCLA edges up this year (and with Governor Schwarzenegger running things in California, who knows what will happen) then Georgetown will drop out of the top tier.

This is hard to swallow.

When most students applied to Georgetown they considered it barely a step away from the Ivy League. This alleged status will be difficult to accept if Georgetown is no longer ranked as a top-25 school.

It will be difficult for our future employers or graduate schools to accept as well.

Everyone loves to blame the rankings for being arbitrary and capricious. Too little alumni giving and a small endowment hurt. A comparatively higher number of part-time professors undermines Georgetown’s ranking too. This last point is particularly unfair _ if the former director of the Central Intelligence Agency is a part-time professor, is that somehow a bad thing?

We could spend days arguing why Georgetown deserves a better rank. Or why the rankings are too prominently emphasized. Both are true.

The biggest factor, however, going into the U.S. News rankings is the peer assessment, a measure created from the opinions of administrators at similar top institutions. This is an area where Georgetown does not perform well. This score, based on our reputation, is hard to make excuses for. For whatever reasons, the rest of academia does not think Georgetown is anywhere near on par with the Ivy League anymore.

If the rest of the world sees this problem, they are probably onto something.

The Chronicle of Higher Education is read by university administrators across the country. Georgetown shows up in the pages of the Chronicle several times a year, usually for doing something needlessly stupid.

Georgetown’s massive debt, worsening every year, makes an appearance every time our bonds get downgraded. The chief financial officer typically has the tenure of a senate intern. At least Georgetown pays its president a salary commensurate with our (former) peer institutions.

Just as damaging, however, is the role that Georgetown has played as higher education’s disclosure bogeyman.

When David Shick, a Georgetown junior, died in Feb. 2000, the university handled the crisis about as poorly as possible. When Shick was found by the Department of Public Safety bleeding in the parking lot of Lauinger Library, DPS rushed him to the hospital, while immediately concluding that his injuries were just an accident. A hospital physician, not the Department of Public Safety, was responsible for notifying the police.

During my freshman year, a representative of the honor council told my econ class that nobody had ever committed a violation of the honor code that warranted expulsion. Of course, people occasionally underwent hearings, but the proceedings were confidential, and nobody ever got expelled. After all, graduation rates are important in the rankings and expelled students do not graduate.

The death of a student could not be allowed to supercede the no-expulsion rule. Aware of its comically lax sentencing, the university informed David Shick’s parents that if they wanted to find out what happened to the person responsible for their son’s death, they would have to sign a non-disclosure agreement. They could not tell anyone. Not even Shick’s younger siblings.

It is hard to imagine that some university administrator sat in the room with Shick’s parents and thought, “Yeah, this is the right thing to do. This makes sense.”

Of course, the alternative was to let everyone know what the punishment was _ a 10-page reflection paper and alcohol counseling for the student who allegedly punched Shick and knocked him down. Ten pages?

Georgetown’s disclosure rules took a turn for the worse when, in 2002 Kate Dieringer (NHS ’05) came forward with another tale of lax punishments and absurd secrecy.

Georgetown’s continued blundering landed the university in the news over and over. Finally the Department of Education told the university definitively what everyone else in the world had realized years ago, that its disclosure policies were unacceptable.

Georgetown is a giant institution. But when giant institutions behave stupidly, a lot of people take notice. Including the people that compile the U.S. News rankings. Another high-profile battle of university vs. students could be crippling.

And it will be a sad day when the basketball team is the only thing at this university ranked in the top-25.

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