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Elite University Presidents Love Rankings

The University of Nebraska at Lincoln was kicked out of the exclusive AAU last month after the private association revised its membership criteria:

Presidents say that in recent years discussions about membership in the association have become much more quantified, with an increasing emphasis on a rankings methodology developed by the membership committee and senior AAU staff. Last April the association as a whole adopted revised criteria that place an emphasis on federal research dollars.

These are, of course, the same universities whose presidents routinely denounce any and all outside organizations that publish college rankings of any kind, on the grounds that rankings are inherently reductive, distortionary, misleading, immoral, etc. Turns out they’re perfectly fine with rankings—indeed, they want more of them—as long as they control the rankings, and the rankings are about something (research) they actually care about.

The inside baseball part of the story, in which the ouster vote took place during secretive AAU meetings held in the same luxury Washington, D.C. hotel frequented by Hollywood celebrities and visiting heads of state, reminds us that elite universities are best understood not as distinctly public-minded bodies but rather just another collection of long-established and inherently conservative organizations pursuing a predictable agenda of rent-seeking, cabal formation, wealth accumulation, and power maximization.

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