A deserved omission

The University should look to UC-Berkeley’s shared-governance system to improve its international standing

Though the Princeton Review last month named the University the No. 1 “best value” public institution, not all higher-education rankings are as celebratory of Virginia’s flagship school.

In the 2012-13 Times Higher Education world university rankings, published October 2012, the University came in not first but 118th. The London magazine is the United Kingdom’s leading higher-ed news publication. For its list Times Higher Education measured five areas of performance. These areas included the school’s learning environment and quality of teaching, volume and reputation of research, academic influence as measured by citations, industry income and international outlook.

Global powerhouses like Oxford and the University of Tokyo soundly whipped the University in the rankings, as expected. But the University also placed far behind many of its domestic competitors, including peer institutions such as the University of Michigan, the University of Texas at Austin and Ohio State.

Times Higher Education Monday released another list: its 2013 world reputation rankings. The magazine compiled the list with the help of an invitation-only survey targeting top scholars. Some 16,639 academics from 144 countries responded to the questionnaire. The respondents, on average, had been working in academia for 17 years. The list, an authoritative index of academic prestige, offers a penetrating view into how international scholars view various schools.

Harvard topped the reputation list, as Harvard tends to do. Forty-two other American schools joined the crimson ivy in the rankings. The University, however, failed to make the cut. It did not appear in the list’s top 100.

But the University’s peer institutions did. Our west coast rival—the University of California at Berkeley, which, despite a plagued California system, often beats us for the top spot in national public-school rankings—nabbed a cozy fifth place in the Times Higher Education report.

What is Berkeley doing that we’re not? UC-Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau discussed how the public ivy had worked to combat disinvestment in U.S. public universities in a post published on the Times Higher Education website.

“Berkeley’s academic excellence derives in good part from its system of ‘shared governance,’” Birgeneau wrote. “There is a strong partnership between the senior administration and the faculty leadership, with outstanding researchers and teachers involving themselves in the governance of the university.”

UC-Berkeley has been able to hold onto most of its top scholars. It has won three Nobel prizes in the past seven years. The school has worked to maintain competitive faculty salaries by making compensation a priority in its fundraising efforts. As part of a $3 billion fundraising effort announced in 2007—and on track to be completed this year—Berkeley won a $110 million matching grant from the Walter and Flora Hewlett Foundation, thus raising $220 million to support faculty salaries, research and graduate students. The University’s highest-profile fundraising effort, in contrast, is the Rotunda restoration project—a worthy cause, but not one that draws (and keeps) top scholars apart from, perhaps, a handful of Jefferson-obsessed historians and architects.

The University can learn a lot from UC-Berkeley’s shared-governance system. The University’s reigning governance ethos, however, seems more like top-down management than collaboration. A Saturday Washington Post article reported tensions between Rector Helen Dragas and University President Teresa Sullivan after Dragas sent a dizzying list of 65 goals she expected the president to complete by the end of the academic year. Missing from the list was Sullivan’s top priority of raising employee compensation.

The Faculty Senate in its Monday meeting unanimously approved a statement criticizing Dragas for her actions. Dragas responded with a chilly letter sent Tuesday to the Faculty Senate executive council. In the letter Dragas described it as “unfortunate, and disappointing” to see the body react to newspaper articles reporting the rector’s mismanagement. The letter’s chiding tone suggests prospects are dim that the Board will give faculty the compensation and autonomy they deserve. But maybe the Board will prove us wrong—or maybe Times Higher Education was right to leave the University off its list.

related stories