Calling Dick McCormick: Rankings Disaster Zone

April 1, 2008

The new US News & World Report graduate study rankings are out and — aarggh! Dick, where art thou? Rutgers’ claim to academic leadership is disintegrating before our eyes.

You will recall — we recall — you telling the New York Times in 1990, back when you were dean of faculty:

“The financial difficulties at Rutgers came at a time when the institution seemed to be making significant strides in gaining the respect it so covets. Dr. McCormick said that the departments of political science, chemistry, psychology and computer science were on the brink of achieving the national prominence already enjoyed by its departments of English, history, philosophy, physics and astronomy, and mathematics, and that many others had well-developed plans in place to make the leap.

“‘This is the shame of it all,’ he said. ‘There are a number of departments that are in that position. They have every legitimate academic reason to make that jump in the early 90’s, but the dollars aren’t there.’”

18 years later and into the 6th year of your presidency, how is Rutgers faring?

Not very well, thank you, at least not academically.

Ah, “the shame of it all,” to borrow McCormick the youngster’s rhetoric.

The Philosophy Dept. remains second-best in the English-speaking world (tied with Oxford). This is per PGR, the accepted rating service. (USN&WR does not rank philo depts.) Philosophy has been Rutgers’ best department for perhaps 15 years, long before McCormick’s presidency.

Criminology, at Newark-Rutgers, probably is the university’s next best program — it ranks 4th in the US News & World Report ranking.

Next up, English, at #16, a ranking unchanged in decades.

History follows at #17. No real change in decades.

Math is down to #24. Physics is now #26.

Then things start really slipping. Political Science, cited by McCormick as on the brink of excellence, ranks #41.

Chemistry is #68.

Computer Sciences is #31.

Psychology is #77.

Biological Sciences rank #48.

The two law schools (gasp) are tied at #77

The business school is #45.

Engineering is #52.

At Rutgers, climbing into national prominence under McCormick palpably has become a hashish dream, mere wisps of smoky hope — and for most chairs, no matter how reasonable their plans, the climb is about as likely as scaling Mt. Everest in January in the thick of the Nepalese winter.

Gentlemen, ladies, settle back in your chairs and pick up that Richard Farina book, Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up To Me.

We suppose the one bit of good news is that just about every academic department ranks higher than the money-pit of ineffectualness that is men’s basketball (ranked #197, per Sagarin).

But where might these departments rank were money stripped away from sports and put into academics? That is what you call a rhetorical question because we know it isn’t happening as long as Dick McCormick is Rutgers’ president, even as he pulls the school along in pursuit of his apparent goal of transforming Rutgers into the Louisville of the North.

Don’t forget our mission statement:

O Commit to a pledge that, by 2015, Rutgers will have 15 academic programs nationally ranked in the top 15…20 by 2020, and 25 by 2025. Put academics first and mean it.

Difficult? You bet — but does one of the nation’s richest and best-educated states deserve less?