Op-ed describes university rankings as flawed intellectual shortcuts

November 11, 2014

In an op-ed for the National Post, former York University Dean of Education Paul Axelrod argues that university rankings are “endemically flawed.” Rankings "have some entertainment value, they pander to our hunger for simple bromides, but they shouldn’t be used by families anxiously planning their children’s academic futures,” writes Axelrod. He points out that rankings depend on a somewhat arbitrary weighting of various figures that may or may not actually reflect an institution’s quality. He notes that citation counts, for instance, often depend on a non-comprehensive list of journals that is dominated by American publications. Such counts also typically omit books, which remain the scholarly standard in the humanities and social sciences. Axelrod also says that reputation scores are often based on guesswork; he cites one ranking that awarded high placement to a non-existent law school. Rankings, Axelrod suggests, are little more than a “tempting, but risky, intellectual shortcut.” Axelrod has commented on the shortcomings of university rankings previously. National Post