‘Breaking Ranks’ …New book offers a harsh critique of the rankings industry and its impact on undergraduate colleges and law schools.

Steven S. Koblik gave a gift to subsequent presidents of Reed College: in 1995, he declared that the college would no longer cooperate with U.S. News & World Report on its college rankings.

Colin Diver, who succeeded Koblik, writes that when he arrived at Reed in 2002, he thought, “I’m no longer subject to the tyranny of college rankings. I don’t need to worry about some newsmagazine telling me what to do.”

In a book being published tomorrow, Breaking Ranks: How the Rankings Industry Rules Higher Education and What to Do About It (Johns Hopkins University Press), Diver describes his experience as a college president (and previously as a law dean at the University of Pennsylvania) in dealing with rankings. He absolutely agrees with the decisions Reed made about the rankings. And he believes that rankings aren’t going anywhere but that colleges can, and should, fight them.

Diver writes that Reed’s “rebellious stance” on U.S. News was part of what attracted him to Reed in the first place. “I took it to be a statement that Reed viewed education as a path to a genuinely fulfilling life, not just a ticket to a high-paying job.”

In an interview, he said that his perspective on rankings came nearly as much from his experience as a law dean as it did from his experience as a president. (He is currently the Charles A. Heimbold Jr. Professor of Law and Economics Emeritus at Penn.)

Why Oppose Rankings

Diver starts his book with a review of why he sees it as dangerous to rank colleges.

In a chapter called “Apples, Oranges and Refrigerators: Should Colleges Be Ranked?” he discusses how Consumer Reports evaluated refrigerators, noting (with praise) the way it conducts actual tests on them.

“It makes perfectly good sense to rate refrigerators,” the book says.

On colleges? Not so much, he writes.