Western up four notches
By Dave Yasvinski
MacLean's magazine's university report cards are out and Western's grades have improved considerably from last year.
According to the annual report, Western now ranks fifth out of 15 universities in the medical/doctoral category, up four places from a year ago.
Ann Dowsett Johnston, assistant managing editor for MacLean's, said eight years ago the survey ranked Canadian universities in order from one to 48 but quickly changed this system to account for large differences between schools. The survey now separates universities into three groups: comprehensive, primarily undergraduate and medical/doctoral.
Johnston explained Western's move from ninth to fifth overall is quite a jump but not as big a surprise as it might seem. The reason it seems so significant is because Western fell to ninth from its sixth place finish two years ago.
"Historically, Western had been higher than its ninth place last year," she said. "There has been a lot of changes at Western in the last little while in leadership and policy. [Western President] Paul Davenport seems to be having an effect he has done well."
Western made significant improvements in seven of the 22 indicators used to rate universities, significant to the extent that the university was challenged on some of the data they provided. "We challenged the Western numbers severely when they first came in. When they were refiled they remained high."
Peter Mercer, Western's VP-administration, said he was indifferent about the MacLean's rankings. "I have mixed feelings. It's captured the public's imagination and I'm glad we're perceived to have improved but I've never put any stock in them."
Mercer said he questioned the validity of some of the indicators MacLean's used to rate schools, such as the number of teaching faculty with a PhD. "This is not necessarily an indication of anything. There are a lot of good faculty members without doctoral degrees, that by itself does not commend itself to me."
Mercer added he was worried that MacLean's attempts to quantify the unquantifiable could have a disproportionate effect on students deciding which school to attend. "We believe there are much better ways to get information on universities than reading MacLean's," he said.
"There are so many intangibles that come into play when a student chooses a university," said Ian Armour, president of the University Students' Council. "The MacLean's survey is only one measure of what the school is really about."
While the survey may be a good starting point for students considering which university to go to, Armour said the ultimate goal of MacLean's is to sell magazines and students interested in a university should look deeper. "The whole thing seems flawed from the statistical methods they use to the criteria they evaluate schools on."
Johnston said she was aware the study remains controversial but said the magazine acts in the best interest of students everywhere. "We're the watchdog for the students. The way things have been downloaded onto the shoulders of students, we remain firm that someone has to do this. We measure what's being maintained in a time of cuts," she said.
Armour added he was not overly concerned about the study because of how quickly the results are forgotten. "People don't even remember what we scored last year it has a life of about 24 hours."