Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Sarah Lawrence College Says No to US News Rankings

I am working on a project involving college presidents' pay with my colleague Marc Fox at Brooklyn College. While going through data on the presidents' backgrounds I noticed that my alma mater, Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, New York, stopped requiring the SAT test and, at the same time, told US News that it would not participate in their rankings. Thus, the college appears as "unranked" in the all-important US News ranking system.

Sarah Lawrence is left wing and I haven't always agreed with their political correctness. I loved it there because of the high degree of autonomy they afforded me and the cool students. While I was there ('73-'75) I took two years of classical Greek, one year of German, two years of philosophy and a course in "legal studies" where I wrote papers on the history of slavery and the Dred Scott decision. The teaching was fine (as was the teaching at SUNY Binghamton, where I spent my first two years of college) and the breadth of the professors, their willingness to be outrageous and think outside the box, and intensely individualized instruction made it among the best academic experiences I ever had. In each course we were required to meet individually with the professor and to write a paper based on our own ideas.

Although I disagree with the ideologies of most university professors, and especially with those at Sarah Lawrence College, I concur with their decision to reject the US News rankings but not the SATs. I think that SATs are a useful measure of potential. IQ tests predict performance. But the US News rankings are ridiculous.

About two years ago I visited my old high school, the Bronx High School of Science. I was supposed to be giving career and college advice, but I realized that the students cared only about getting into a name college, not in developing a great life or a great career. Getting into college and developing a fruitful life and calling are barely related. The fixation on SATs and obsession with admittance to this or that college is a tragic social waste. The SATs should not be a fixation, and the fact that students do study for them and do raise their scores is an imperfection. However, I do not believe that there is no such thing as "G" or general intelligence. Naturally, different people have different strengths and weaknesses, but an approximate measure, while imperfect, correlates with ability.

I give two cheers to Sarah Lawrence College for having the intestinal fortitude to say "no" to the US News rankings. I disagree with their dropping the SAT scores. But I give them three cheers for taking risks and thinking outside the box. It was there that I first thought of becoming a Republican. I wrote a paper on "achievement" in my philosophy class, and although my professor disagreed with it, I am still thinking about that topic today. Although my professors were mostly "liberal" it was the encouragement to think in original ways that helped me reject the left wing ideology.

If you are a conservative and need advice about selecting a college, I would refer you to the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, which has an excellent college guide for conservatives. US News and World Report is a terrible magazine and its ranking system is a joke.


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Graham J. said...

Hi Mr. Langbert,

Interesting read. I actually just graduated from Sarah Lawrence in May, after studying history, international relations, and that sort of thing.

Politically the school was particularly informative. I like to describe my transformation in the last four years as "went in a communist, and came out a human being." The kneejerk reaction by such ridiculous groups as a revival chapter of the old SDS to an article I wrote was surprisingly fierce. I called for, essentially, more classes on "dead white men," and was excoriated for it.

So yes, because people tend to not think through their positions and beliefs, I have moved more rightwards, but I wouldn't consider myself a conservative. I suppose the best summary of my ideology these days would be "guns and butter." I really owe that to Sarah Lawrence.

One question: was Jefferson Adams teaching there while you were a student? My guess is not, but he's a diehard Republican (and gay to boot), who is absolutely not afraid to discuss, say, his disgust for Hilary Clinton or anxiety over Obama in class. And you should have heard him in conference. Regardless of what they think, no one at SLC is afraid to voice it, and I think that's what makes it such an amazing school.

Mitchell Langbert said...

Dear Graham: Jeff Adams was my don! (I assume they still have those). I didn't speak with him much, and in fact didn't know he was a Republican! I'm glad to hear it. I had the impression that the place had become politically correct in the 1990s when Ivan Boesky's son and his friend were thrown out for telling a joke. I was slightly involved in that incident. Frank Randall who likely retired by now had spoken with me (I had called him first after seeing his name in an article).

I was there for two years, 73-75 and took two years of philosophy with Elfie Stock who got married while I was there and then her name was Elfie Raymond. She was great. I'd be interested in knowing if Mr. Siegle might still be teaching classics there after all these years. I took two years of Greek with him and he was still there in the 1990s, but he must be close to age 80 now so he likely has retired.

I'm sure that there are many good professors there today. Your saying that Jeff is a Republican renews my faith in the place. If you see him you might ask him if he remembers me. It was a long time ago, 35 years, that I graduated.

My ex wife's son, Jesse Lentchner, went there in the 1990s and he married Rebecca Turner who was also a student there. My wife, Freda, also went there at the same time I did.

I'm delighted that things are still no-holds-barred there. I'll make sure I include them in my will!

By the way, some things never leave you. I was just reading Plato's Protagoras and Aristotle's Politics, subjects I might have covered or did cover there.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Siegle is still there! a legend, the man.

Mitchell Langbert said...

That's awesome! I was just at my 35th reunion this past June. It was wonderful. One of the alumni, Danny Emerman, has a restaurant in the city and a big chunk of the class, about a third, attended the dinner. They were mostly theater students as opposed to classics geeks like me. I wish Mr. Siegel had been there!