Maclean's editor meets with students to read into situation
By Sara Marett
Maclean's magazine's annual university rankings have been the thorn in many universities' sides since they first hit the shelves in 1991 particularly for those who have not landed at the top of the list.
Last week at the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations conference in Ottawa, student leaders voiced their concerns about the survey to Maclean's managing editor Ann Dowsett Johnston in hopes that the magazine will consider more student input when compiling the issue.
Dowsett Johnston attended the week-long conference for one day to gain insight into CASA's current initiatives and issues surrounding students such as debt and accessibility to post-secondary education, she said. Western's University Students' Council VP-student issues Sam Castiglione and President Ryan Parks expressed their concern about a feature article on student social life at Western in the 1993 ranking issue entitled, "The Pub Report: At Country Club U the party tradition lives on."
Castiglione said he told Dowsett Johnston students have suffered from Western's administration's attempts to rectify the 'party school' image portrayed in this article. Parks referred to changes to Orientation week as one way students have felt the implications of the administration trying to fix this negative reputation.
Dowsett Johnston said that at the time, the magazine felt Western was a big enough school to handle the article. She explained it was written by two Western alumni who were associate editors at Maclean's and was done to highlight an important aspect of student life. "Perhaps it was wrong to do. In the future we probably won't target one school like that," she said.
Katherine Kowalchuk, president of the University of Manitoba Students' Union, said she told Dowsett Johnston she was concerned about the legitimacy of the information gathered in the rankings issue and the impact it has on the university's reputation.
The University of Manitoba chose not participate in the survey in 1994 and ranked last in 1997 in the medical/doctoral category. "I don't believe [the gathering of information] is an airtight process and it does have a huge impact perception is everything for universities," she said.
Jason Aebig, VP-government affairs for the University of Saskatchewan's Students' Union, said he had a problem with a statement made by Dowsett Johnston during the conference. "She pointed the finger at the government for all of the inadequacies within universities, yet this does not come across in the magazine and then the universities get blamed and suffer for it it's kicking the victim."
But Hoops Harrison, national director for CASA, disagreed and said Maclean's should not be pointing the finger at anyone, but simply present the facts objectively. "Inherent in the Maclean's rankings is a bias, there are flaws, but what this discussion [between Dowsett Johnston the students] addressed was accuracy and the students were all over her."
Dowsett Johnston said she was impressed with CASA's initiatives and even rewrote the introduction to the Maclean's Guide to Universities handbook to better highlight the serious issues currently facing students as a result of the insight she gained from attending the conference. The handbook went to press yesterday and hits newsstands March 2.