On Rankings

I've somehow run into a skosh of chatter in the past few days about rankings, and it gets me thinking about both the mechanics and rhetoric of rankings.

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.


  1. skosh > Japanese sukoshi (少し), "a little bit."

    In Japanese, high vowels (like u and i) can be optionally dropped in most positions, so in everday speech "sukoshi" is pronounced "s'kosh'." This is why the copula "desu" is normally pronounced "des" as well.

    少 is now pronounced "shǎo" in Mandarin, where it also means "few," "little," "less," "inadquate," etc.

    In Japanese, the root suko is spelled 少, and the syllable shi is spelled with the kana し.

    "Suko" or "suku" is the "kun" (i.e. borrowed old Chinese) reading in Japanese; the "on" (i.e. native Japanese) reading is "shō."

  2. I was sure someone would notice my use of "skosh"! In fact, I'd never written it before today, so I checked a few usages online just to see if I was getting it right. From the Japanese! I would never have guessed. :)

  3. katka7:45 PM

    Ah, the rhetoric of filling out scholarly productivity surveys. I know our main office has recently begun to take those real(ly) serious(ly), and seems that it's paying off.

    J and I just saw a nice Anhinga in FL. We thought of you.

  4. by the page? concept? hours-spent-researching?

    I think they measure it by the phoneme.

  5. Anonymous6:39 AM

    Skosh entered American English in the 1950s from military personnel returning from Japan and Korea. I think it's darned cool word!