The Princeton Review has released its annual compilation of "the best" 331 colleges and universities throughout the United States. Seventy-three questions in length, the Review's questionnaire catalogued responses to numerous queries including best professors, best dorms, best libraries, best food, prettiest campus and most politically active student body.
UB unfortunately landed spots in six of the "worst of" categories. According to the survey, UB students are the least happy among American college students, live in dungeon-like dorms and are subjected to professors who "suck the life from materials," if they're lucky enough to take courses taught by professors at all.
Sophistry is defined as "plausible but fallacious argumentation." Perhaps the Princeton survey can be listed in new editions of the dictionary as a synonym.
The Princeton Review's flawed methodology is comparable to using a hammer to do a scalpel's job. The Princeton Review representative who gathered data about UB for this year's edition camped out in the Student Union, bribing students to fill out their surveys in exchange for Frisbees. One hundred people were surveyed from a student population of 24,000. For perspective, that's less than one-half of one percent - hardly adequate to draw generalizations about the entire UB student body.
Commuters cannot offer an informed opinion about the conditions of the dorms, nor can freshmen know how many TAs teach upper-level classes - two questions posed, yet not taken into account, when the survey was conducted. Certain survey questions were not - and could not - be answered properly. Students largely asserted that too many TAs teach upper-level courses when in fact only three percent do; the percentage jumps only to six for freshmen-level courses. UB ranked first in "Least Happy Students," but how can happiness, an emotion, be quantified? And how can the responses of such a small sample legitimately be translated into a representation of such a massive student body?
The first component of sophistry's definition is, however, "plausible." Even taking into account the Review's methodological flaws, for 100 students to hold similarly negative attitudes about UB is a signal that something is amiss.
University administrators are uniformly concerned with rankings and how they affect a school's reputation. If one assumes their concern extends beyond the data returned by the survey to the actual well-being of students, they ought to pay attention to the kernel of truth to be harvested from this data.
The results raise valid, pointed concerns about the quality, or lack thereof, among the university's faculty. While the great majority of UB's professors are dedicated individuals who do their profession and students justice, numbered among them are a slim few whose focus leans towards the research aspect of this university at the cost of their instructional duties. The varied general education requirements compound the problem by herding students into classes they are not interested in with teachers who'd prefer smaller, intimate settings, in the subjects of their choice.
The smaller, intimate settings of the university's residence halls are certainly not preferred by students. With almost blanket unanimity, students voice tremendous dissatisfaction with the "dungeon-like" condition of the dorms, part of an architectural design structure referred to as "Attica West" by President Greiner. With the public eye fixed on the new apartments, the dismal condition of the dorms has been too easily pushed out of sight as well as mind, leaving underclassmen and those ineligible for the apartments in the lurch.
The UB administration should conduct proper follow-up research to specifically target what students seemingly find so objectionable about UB. Feedback - even statistically flawed feedback - can only help the university. Rather than categorically dismissing Princeton Review's findings, students would be better served if administrators and policy makers considered UB's weaknesses in attempting to improve the university experience, both academically as well as socially.