The mechanics of rankings are seldom transparent, which is why I enjoyed this discussion over at Mike's blog about rankings of comp/rhet programs. In the comments, people not only offered rankings but rationales for those rankings. These rankings were also obviously anecdotal; something I appreciated.
Then the amazing D. Hawhee recently linked to this post at money.cnn.com which ranks the job of "college professor" as number two. Yeah baby! Oh no wait: do they mean to distinguish full professor from associate or assistant? Whatever; seeing that made me feel good. In this ranking, the mechanics of the process are a bit opaque, but that mystery lends itself, I think, to a rhetoric of scientific certainty in the rankings.
And then there were these rankings in the Chronicle, which I'll repost:
Top 10 English departments by 2005 Faculty Scholarly Productivity
1. Princeton U.
2. U. of Georgia
3. Pennsylvania State U.
4. Washington U. in St. Louis
5 and 6. Johns Hopkins U. and Stanford U.
7. U. of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
8. U. of California at Berkeley and U. of Florida
9 and 10. City U. of New York Graduate Center and U. of Chicago
And no, people: we are not number seven because we blog a lot at UIUC. :)
Jokes aside, we simply know that there is no way to accurately measure "scholarly productivity"—by the page? concept? hours-spent-researching? And it simply must be figured per capita, because there are many more of us in English at UIUC than at the City University of New York's Grad Center. (Though they dress much better.) Still, the rhetoric of such rankings seem to lend themselves to some kind of certainty.
So yeah, rankings. Having been educated at schools that were not so highly ranked (correction: CU Boulder always ranked up there as a "party school"), I often held to the idea that rankings were bogus given my conviction that access to ideas, books, and discussions with brilliant people were democratically distributed up and down the tiered systems we inhabit. But at the same time, rankings circulate as cultural capital, to some extent and with some people, so rankings are real in that way.