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U.S. dental schools refuse to cooperate with newsmagazine's rating initiative 'Horribly flawed' criteria cited; U.S. News and World Report cancels ranking

A coordinated refusal by many of the nation's dental schools has forced U.S. News and World Report to scuttle its plan to rate them in a forthcoming issue. The rebuff is the most tangible demonstration yet of a growing backlash against the newsweekly's decade-old rankings.

"We think the survey is horribly flawed," said Dr. Dominick DePaola, president of the Baylor College of Dentistry in Dallas, which is part of Texas A&M; University.

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"If they were based on good criteria, we wouldn't have a problem with them. But they're not."

Several editors at the magazine said they would attempt to address the dental deans' concerns and devise another way of judging the schools in subsequent years.

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The magazine's autumn rankings of undergraduate campuses and spring rankings of graduate and professional programs have become rites dreaded by many campus administrators, as they are often used by prospective applicants and donors to measure a school's strength. The issues are among the magazine's top money-makers and are often used by administrators at highly ranked schools to tout accomplishments.

Coalition of undergraduates

Last fall, a coalition of undergraduates at U.S. campuses, led by a Stanford University senior, called on college administrators across the country to reject pleas for information and assessments. About two dozen student governments have backed the bid against the surveys.

The graduate rankings are an even pricklier issue because they often rely much more on reputation than do the undergraduate assessments.

U.S. News intends to proceed with its scheduled rankings of graduate programs in business, medicine, law and other areas for its March 3 cover story, "America's Best Graduate Schools."

Dentistry will not be among them.

In 1994, the American Association of Dental Schools decided to advise its 54 members not to participate in any ranking that had not been approved by the group. And the association had not backed the newsmagazine's survey because it intended to rate dental schools solely on questionnaires sent out to school officials across the country asking them to assess their peers.

Graduate programs in nursing, the arts, pharmacy and social work also are assessed by reputation.

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"If there needs to be a ranking for the public good, then it should be on a rational basis rather than on the opinion of an unrepresentative sample of dental educators," said Dr. Richard R. Ranney, dean of the dental school at the University of Maryland at Baltimore.

Ratings of schools of law, business and medicine, by contrast, include fairly sophisticated measures of student quality, resources and job placements.

The issue was raised only recently because dental schools are among those schools ranked only every few years; they had been ranked once, in 1993.

In late October, as the magazine sent out questionnaires to dental school administrators, Preston A. Littleton Jr., then the executive director of the dental school association, sent electronic messages to deans reminding them of the group's position.

About 35 percent of dental school officials responded to the mailed surveys, enough for the results to be tabulated but fTC significantly less than the 50 percent desired, said Mel Elfin, executive editor of U.S. News' campus ranking issues.

So, the magazine decided, around the beginning of the year, to cancel the dental ratings.

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'A fair point'

"They make a fair point," Elfin said. "To use just a purely reputational survey for the dental schools but to use a complex statistical method for the medical schools is unfair."

This is not the only time that concerns have been raised about the ratings: The American Association of Medical Colleges has expressed reservations, and a growing number of university presidents have spoken out to denounce ranking campuses at all.

Yet the action by the dental schools is the most direct attempt to force a change in the way the magazine assesses them, editors said.

Pub Date: 1/31/97


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