The fall is also a time when college rankings come out. Some of them use meaningful measures to gauge a university's progress and some of them are, frankly, pretty silly.
On the silly side is the Princeton Review party school ranking, in which Penn State placed second.
I mention this only because of all the media attention it got. This particular "review" is little more than a publicity stunt to help them sell their guide, and involves people going to a Web site and voting for the school they want to name the winner. It could actually be more reflective of a school's overall popularity, but it has no legitimate basis for its conclusion.
As I have said to many people, we want students who come to Penn State to enjoy their college experience, and we think this is a fun and engaging environment, with lots for students to do. But the ranking is nothing more than a clever marketing trick to get attention to their guide, and the media naively buy into it every year.
There is just so much crap here it is hard to know where to begin in pulling it apart.
I guess the best place is with the sentence I’ve emphasized. This is a rather weak attempt put a positive spin on a ranking that places Penn State in a light which Spanier clearly thinks is negative. His denial that “it has [..] a legitimate basis for its conclusion,” is at best disingenuous. As I have noted elsewhere, Penn State flack Bill Mahon acknowledged the obvious to the CDT the day after the rankings were released: Penn State has an alcohol problem.
...[W]ith the amount of marketing of alcohol, he [Bill Mahon] is surprised the university isn't number one. He said 353 Penn State students were taken to the emergency room for alcohol overdoses last year.
Mahon follows Spanier’s public relations strategy for dealing with this problem by placing the blame for this problem outside the University. The fact that the ranking focuses the light back on Penn State is what has Spanier upset.
Let’s take the magnifying glass to a bit more of Spanier’s prepared remark.
As I have said to many people, we want students who come to Penn State to enjoy their college experience, and we think this is a fun and engaging environment, with lots for students to do. But the ranking is nothing more than a clever marketing trick to get attention to their guide, and the media naively buy into it every year
The fact is that Spanier’s response to the ranking, the banning of alcohol at tailgates while games are in progress, is nothing more than a clever marketing trick to shift attention away from the ranking and the media has naively bought into it. This ban does little to address the the overall alcohol problem at Penn State but, as I have noted, it has generated misleading and false headlines which give the impression that there is a total alcohol ban at tailgates. Perhaps Spanier is venting some professional jealousy about the success of a rival bullshit artist.
If Penn State were serious about addressing the alcohol problem, which the Princeton Review has brought to national attention, it might consider raising its academic standards. As I have previously discussed, grade inflation is a real problem at Penn State. In 2002, nearly 40% of all grades awarded at the University were A’s. There is time to party when an A is that easy to come-by. This is reflected in the little noted fact that Penn State ranked ninth on Princeton Review’s list of schools where you don’t have to study. Contrast Spanier’s public relations response with the response at the University of Colorado after it ranked number one on the Princeton Review party list in 2004. Dean Todd Gleason of the College of Arts and Sciences wrote in a memo to his faculty,
As we enter the 2004-2005 academic year, I would like to raise a topic for formal discussion in the College and in your unit. The past academic year brought us a number of events that threatened the reputation of the institution that many of us have labored most of our careers to enhance. One of these was Princeton Review¹s evaluation of CU Boulder as a party school.
The Princeton Review ranking is subject to methodological challenge. However, it raised questions and stimulated discussion in many quarters about whether or not our undergraduate population was being sufficiently challenged in their studies.
Recently, Hank Brown the president of the University of Colorado announced he would seek to place class rank on transcripts as a way of combating grade inflation. There is room to debate if this is the appropriate way to raise academic standards, but there is no debating that Colorado is attempting to deal with the core issue. On the other hand, Penn State has only dealt with the marketing problem.
Let’s revisit Spanier’s statement one last time.
. This particular "review" is little more than a publicity stunt to help them sell their guide, and involves people going to a Web site and voting for the school they want to name the winner.
Last year Penn State football was enjoying a resurgence and Penn State fans were competing for the title of Ultimate Tailgate Venue, in a contest run by Sports Illustrated. The Penn State propaganda portal Penn State Live encouraged fans to vote online for the University as the Ultimate Tailgate Venue and celebrated the Penn State victory. I have never heard anyone from Old Main complaining about the methodology involved in this ranking. The difference is that this was thought to be good for Penn State’s image, despite the fact that the role of alcohol at tailgates was emphasized by SI. For Spanier a ranking has bad methodology if he doesn’t like the ranking. Flawed methodology will go unnoticed if the thinks a ranking will help him market Penn State.
This is all part of the Penn State Way.