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Sports and Maclean's

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Let's say everyone at the University of Calgary is on a hockey team. In theory, we win as a team and lose as a team. Now, what would we do if we looked sluggish compared to the other teams, failed to show improvement, and cost more than we did last year for the same results?

Two things would happen. There would be a lot of players looking to get picked up by other teams and the management would be checking the wanted ads in the minor leagues (e.g. Mount Royal College).

The Maclean's university rankings were released Sun., Nov. 9 and again, the University of Calgary is plunked in 14th spot among medical/doctoral universities.

I would like to come clean and say that I don't buy into these rankings as wholeheartedly as some people. The fact that these rankings have the impact they do is mind blowing. With all due respect to the good people at Maclean's, I won't pass judgement on schools based on the opinions of a single publication.

Take the case of last year's review where Cowboys was listed as a "hot hangout" and U of C 101 was also tagged with the coveted "hot" label. Cowboys is a fire hazard disguised in a tank top and I had to refill my Ritalin prescription to make it to lunch in the God-awful 101 programme--I was in the Den by 1 p.m. on the Wednesday and did just fine without going back.

The point amply made, Maclean's is not the be all and end all for most people. But I know one person who will be on the defensive for the next little while.

Dr. Harvey Weingarten will be on the hot seat, and rightfully so, as questions will be fired at him by various inquiring minds. Here is my quick prediction of Harv's defence strategy: downplay the importance of the rankings, call for more government funding, point out marginal improvements, talk of "raising our sights" for the future and then return to his office and hope the storm blows over by Christmas. And, if he is feeling extra ambitious, maybe Dr. Weingarten will issue a press release claiming "Calgary thumps Manitoba in Maclean's Rankings!" But I doubt that.

The Maclean's rankings do matter to the Canadian university community, and you know in your hearts that Harvey would be patting himself on the back had the U of C placed higher.

Reputation is perhaps the only thing of more importance than money at the post-secondary level. I remember getting made fun of last Christmas for our ranking of 14 of 15. Granted, the ridicule came from a friend attending Brock University, but the power of the ranking is clear.

Government funding will always be an easy escape route for administrative officials. Yes, funding is down 20 per cent in the past 20 years as Harvey pointed out for Time magazine last December, and it's going to get worse before it gets better, but working through challenges is what Harv expects of his students. Still, instead of lightning a match, he curses the darkness. Dr. Weingarten needs to get innovative, outside of raising tuition--he did get his PhD from Yale for God's sakes.

I admit that I'm submitting this piece to my editor before the Maclean's issue hits newsstands, and am not positive about which specific areas saw a change, but I'm willing to bet on a couple.

Student Body ranking, which accounts for 22 to 23 percent of the final score, will not be higher. I'll buy anyone a drink if you spot me in the Den and call me on it. I am that positive.

Also the section evaluating classes will not be improved, class size hurts the U of C here, as well as instructors without tenure, even though they are often the most enjoyable. Look closely to see if the improvements came in areas that are important to you.

As for the four-year plan that will put Calgary into the upper stratosphere of Canadian institutions, "Raising Our Sights" as it was dubbed, when are those accomplishments going to be recognized outside Harvey's office. The four priorities being: to lead innovation in energy and the environment, to understand human behaviour, institutions and cultures, to create tech and managing information for the knowledge of society (whatever the hell that means) and to advance health and wellness. Is this what you see at your school? I encourage you to hop on-line and checkout www.ucalgary.ca/UofC/events/unicomm/raising/ to see if the future is going to be brighter, or if number 15 on future lists is a real possibility.

So there you go. If I didn't improve constantly I would be out of school pretty fast. Are having the same aspirations for Harvey too much? If we are going to pay money for leadership, let us pay someone who not only has a plan, but one that works.

Paying someone for nothing? That's Russia, not the U of C. Do not fret, Dr. Weingarten, I bet you can weather this storm and still have energy left for tuition fights come December. They are about as predictable as our ranking next year.

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Comments

I won't pass judgement on schools based on the opinions of a single publication.

Maclean's isn't the only publication that spikes the U of C. Earlier this year, the Globe and Mail released a similar (albeit less comprehensive) review of Candian Universities in which the U of C fared dismally. I'd post a link to the story, but i've lost track of it and the Globe's website is incredibly frustrating to navigate. (I leave it to Ben to prove me wrong...)

You're right about one thing -- these reviews are incredibly inaccurate. Unfortunately, they're the best readily available barometer on which we can measure our performance.

As much as the Administration has a responsability to improve services, the easiest way for the U of C to bolster its score is for the student body to prove them wrong. It's easy (and oh so tempting) to talk smack about our school, but we all need to do our part to pubicly express pride in the U of C.

I for one have my fair share of qualms, but you certainly won't hear about them when I'm talking to my friends from Queen's.