Letters

Editor:

The ETS-SAT industry's perennial multi-million-dollar "scoring" of aptitude for higher education echoes the enterprising ingenuity of Dr. Seuss' star-bellied sneetches. The manic quantification of the learning of school children is a comparably ludicrous fetish worthy of a recent president's compassionate anxiety for the ubiquitous children left behind and running ahead.

Long before paying for the "scores" sold by ETS, the parents of pupils and students have paid as many or more millions to such profiteering business parasites of the testing industry as the Kaplan Career Institute (sic) and the Princeton Review (sic) (with no more interest in reviewing or kinship to a New Jersey university than the ETS with the same zip code).

Akin to the profiteers in the testing business are those in the parasitic " 'education services' support industry" who rank American "institutions of higher education" — notably but no longer only M. Zuckerman's U.S. News.

The Spring 2000 issue of LSA Magazine published James R. Tindall's "The Rankings Game," a summary of abundant scholarship on the "shrewdly marketed, for-profit business of college rankings." Tindall noted that U.S. News' single "ranking issue" of 1999 had produced nearly $8 million in newsstand sales plus advertising revenue. And he remarked the cynicism of academic administrators who deplore the slovenly Zuckerman "game" when it yields low rankings, yet defile U-M answering machines and Web sites (and now The University Record) with promotional exultation in "approved" rankings by any source at all.

In "Tycoon," a (07-23-07) New Yorker "profile" of U.S. News mogul M. Zuckerman, N. Paumgarten observed the business decline of U.S. News — which had once competed with Time and Newsweek, but whose college-ranking "franchise" had by 2007 become U.S. News' only remaining asset.

As Gwen Ifill and her interviewed PBS guests made vivid on 8/20/07, the number of colleges in the Zuckerman "ranking franchise" had dwindled by then, as "more than 60 college presidents from mostly liberal arts institutions have declared the (U.S. News') rankings 'misleading....'"

In "U-M noted as 'best value' ..." (The University Record, January 12, 2009), Joe Serwach has nary a misgiving about the source of his "news" that Princeton Review managers, erstwhile testee-grooming entrepreneurs now in collusion with USA Today, have identified the University of Michigan and Hillsdale College as the only two institutions worthy of rank as "best values" in the state of Michigan. As though with the ranking credentials of USA Today in mind, Serwach observes its being "the nation's best-selling newspaper." And he identifies the Princeton Review (whose press copy constitutes the bulk of his report) as "an education services program" (!).

I suppose that when Hustler and Playboy take up the academic rating game as "education services programs" and "note" that as a "best value" the University of Michigan is right up there with, say, the best little whore house in Texas, Mr. Serwach of "News Services" will write up an interview with U-M deans and chairpersons who will celebrate those "findings."

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