College Rankings Should Reflect How a School Handles Rape

Illustration for article titled College Rankings Should Reflect How a School Handles Rape

College rankings are very much bullshit, obviously — but by far the most bullshit aspect of them is the fact that at least half of our nation's Top 10 Schools have a history of utter ineptitude at handling sexual assault. It doesn't matter how high an institution's median SAT score is: if students are getting away with rape and victims are being silenced, it shouldn't be counted as one of the best. Duh.

Fortunately, this may change soon — a group of lawmakers is pressuring U.S. News & World Report to amend its influential college ranking system to indicate which universities have come under fire for failing to adequately respond to sexual assault on campus. In an open letter published in the publication's opinion page, twelve members of the House of Representatives argued that schools should be held accountable for shirking their duties:

Institutions that fail to adequately respond to sexual violence should not receive accolades from your publication. We urge you to include violence statistics in annual Clery reports on campus crime statistics and information about institutions' efforts to prevent and respond to incidents of campus sexual assault, including whether those institutions that have been found to be in violation of Title IX provisions regarding sexual violence, when ranking colleges and universities.


This would change up the rankings a lot. Of the current Top 10 schools, at least five — Harvard, Yale, Columbia, University of Chicago, Dartmouth — have recently faced public fallout for their negligence and indifference in responding to sexual assault reports. Many of the survivors' accounts of their interactions with those administrations are infuriating and gut-wrenching; frankly, it's bizarre and rather disturbing that they'd be considered the country's best universities in light of this.

U.S. News spokeswoman Lucy Lyons told the Huffington Post that the magazine welcomes the letter and would be willing to meet with Rep. Jackie Speier, who spearheaded the proposal, which is a heartening sign (but sounds a bit like lip service). Regardless, this proposal is a wonderful way to increase accountability — by mandating that all colleges publicize their assault statistics and collecting all of those numbers in a very public forum, we can keep administrations from being intentionally opaque about the frequency of rape on campus. A caveat: many colleges already have a dubious track record of trying to discourage survivors from reporting, so it's possible that increased public scrutiny could backfire and have a silencing effect.

Image via Getty.

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These lawmakers are asking for U.S. News to produce, not only a metric for measuring how well a given institution handles sexual assault allegations, but to incorporate that metric into another, even larger and more complicated set of metrics used to condense the worth of an institution down to one number. The practice of ranking schools is already dubious, and now we would be adding another possibly-arbitrarily-produced figure to the mix.

I guess the two biggest questions are: how does one quantify a school's handling of sexual assault and our policies regarding the same, such that a workable metric can be produced. And second, how would this number be weighted against other statistics for the purposes of increasing or lowering the school's rank?

Even if U.S. News complied, it would basically be inviting some other publication or body to produce a "real"ranking based on the things incoming applicants, parents, and future employes "actually" care about (ostensibly, academics, median SAT/ACT scores of incoming students, median GPAs of incoming students, cost of tuition, etc.)

I would imagine the purpose of trying to get U.S. News to change their ranking system is to try to influence these institutions to change their ways and to inform incoming students of what they might expect at any given school in the event that they're sexually assaulted. But with regards to the former reason, to change certain schools' ways, the alteration of the ranking system only works so long as people continue to put stock in that ranking system — so long as outgoing seniors and their parents have faith in that system; however, if you change the metrics in some way that doesn't reflect academic achievement (which this is), those people may stop looking as upon the ranking system as favorably, which would defeat the entire purpose of the exercise. The only way around this would be to weigh the sexual assault metric so lightly against academics that it would also largely frustrate the purpose of incorporating the metric.

With regards to the latter purpose, to put students on notice as to a given school's practices, this could be accomplished by having a parallel ranking based on the sexual assault metric. But then you're not putting the screws to institutions to change their ways.

The other super awful scenario is one in which institutions all agree to handle sexual assault in completely grotesque and insensitive ways — thereby guaranteeing that the sexual assault metric wouldn't influence rankings (cause if everyone is awful, then they'll only be able to judged on the academic stuff). That said, I doubt that would ever happen, because it would be capital-'E' Evil.