Bill Gleason, associate professor of laboratory medicine and pathology at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, has recently published an essay about land-grant universities and the rankings game in the Chronicle of Higher Education. (Also see Bill's excellent blog, Periodic Table.)
Bill makes many astute observations in the essay. On the aspiration to rise in the rankings:
Attempting to game the rankings is a losing proposition for land-grant institutions because some of the factors that affect rankings are in direct opposition to the land-grant mission. Because high SAT scores and high-school rank often influence university rankings, many institutions try to recruit students from out of state to raise those numbers. What of the citizens of the state who are squeezed by such tactics?
On Minnesota's Strategic Propaganda (oops, Positioning!) Initiative to become one of the top three public universities in the WORLD by 2014:
There's something both hubristic and clueless about statements like those from my university. Does the administration believe that the public cannot see through the unreality of its intention to be one of the top three public universities in the world in four more years?
And on what the University of Minnesota should aspire to:
The University of Minnesota is, in other words, a tremendous resource for the state of Minnesota. Public education should be the great equalizer, and Minnesota and other land-grant institutions should return to their original land-grant priorities.