Higher Education Strategy Associates today released a report that proposes a new methodology — “field normalized” — for ranking Canada’s universities. The group aims to mitigate the bias that results from applying the same quantifying methods across disciplines, whether or not these methods in any way reflect what scholars in the fields would use to assess the work of their peers. The group advocates, instead, field-specific parameters. We should judge Arts success according to Arts parameters, and so on. This ensures, they argue, that no school has “an undue advantage simply by being particularly good in a few disciplines with high publication and citation cultures.” The report is timely, given that university administrations are moving to define their institutions around so-called “core values” (or faculties deserving of investment) whose determination may very well be affected by the standard methods of evaluation.
The full report is here for those who want to consider the methodology, which is a corrective to rather than wholesale reappraisal of the prevailing protocols. For the University of Alberta, the results are nevertheless interesting, since they challenge the prevailing assumptions of the institution’s strengths. In other news: the U.S. Republican Party’s “platform,” released at the party’s national convention yesterday, calls on “State officials” to refuse to let universities operate as “zones of intellectual indoctrination favoring the Left.” No matter which party wins the American election in November, the Republican Party’s declaration suggests just how much of an opportunity lies before Canadian universities over the next several years: can Canadian universities position themselves as places of intellectual freedom to which the global students that both Canadian and American universities are pursuing should prefer to come? Or to put the matter another way, can Canadian universities achieve a strong, ethical place in university culture worldwide by crucially distinguishing themselves from the American university of the Republican imaginary? If the Republican university would be a place — under colour of a push-back against “ideology” — from which free social thinking is decisively locked out, can Canadian universities in contrast thrive by explicitly presenting themselves as sites for the production of unfettered social thought? That way true innovation lies . . . .