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Rankings and the Right Things

Craig Van Slyke,  Franke College Dean

As I write this, we’re experiencing a very good week at the Franke College of Business. On Monday, I learned that we were ranked #10 in the United States in the Military Times “Best Schools for Vets: Business Schools” rankings. Then, on Tuesday, we learned that our MBA program was ranked for the first time by U.S. News & World Report. This is a very big deal for a small program such as ours. Only two other programs with 50 or fewer students made the rankings. I was very happy to learn about these rankings, but I was even happier about how we became ranked. (By the way, our School of Hotel and Restaurant Management is also consistently ranked among the best in the world.)

Academics and rankings have an odd relationship. Some schools spend crazy amounts of money, time and energy chasing rankings. They send out carefully timed brag sheets and targeted letters to those who vote on the rankings. It’s kind of like a mini version of an Oscar campaign. Some universities even send out swag, just like for movies. It’s a bit crazy. We seem to denigrate and celebrate rankings at the same time. We criticize rankings as being a giant, high-stakes game. We find fault with the ranking methodologies. We scoff at the ranking results. We also brag and shout hosannas to the heavens when we’re highly ranked. I’m pretty opposed to chasing rankings, although I love spreading the word about NAU and our college. This may seem a bit contradictory, but it really isn’t.

How can we have highly-ranked programs without chasing rankings? Let’s consult our ancient friends, the Stoics. One of the core Stoic beliefs is that we shouldn’t worry about things we can’t control. They maintain that the only thing we can really fully control are our internals, our thoughts. When faced with a situation, we should only concern ourselves with what we can control. This thinking can be extended to rankings. Don’t chase rankings. Do the right things and the rankings will follow, or they won’t. If I send out tons of letters and spend money on postage and swag in an attempt to gain rankings, the rankings may follow, or they may not. Let’s compare the two approaches. If we concentrate on doing the right things and the rankings follow, that’s great. If we spend money to gain rankings attention, that’s okay too, I suppose. In contrast, if we spend money chasing rankings and the rankings don’t follow, we’ve wasted that money (and a lot of time and energy). If we do the right things and the rankings don’t follow, we have still done the right things. See the difference? The resources invested in doing the right things still bring a meaningful return, even if they don’t bring about rankings. No rankings, but we will see great outcomes for our students, faculty, staff and community. That’s how we approach rankings at the Franke College of Business. We try to do the right things. If rankings follow, great. If they don’t, still great.

We can extend this thinking to leadership. Occasionally, some organizational “leaders” seem to be more interested in building their reputation than they are in providing meaningful leadership. (I hasten to add that I haven’t seen this at NAU! I have at other institutions, usually with poor outcomes.) My advice to you is to do the right things. Lead well. The reputation effects will follow, or they won’t. But if you do the right things, you and your organization will benefit in ways much more meaningful than an ephemeral boost to your personal reputation. So, we celebrate our rankings, but we won’t chase them. We will focus on being better and better at serving our students and our community. If the rankings come, great. If they don’t, I’ll still sleep well knowing we’re doing what should be done. FBN

Craig Van Slyke, Ph.D., is the dean of the W.A. Franke College of Business at Northern Arizona University.

The W.A. Franke College of Business at Northern Arizona University is home to approximately 3,000 undergraduate and graduate students. The College’s faculty and staff are dedicated to the success of its students and the economic development of the region. For more information on The W.A. Franke College of Business, please see: I welcome comments and feedback on these columns. Please email me:








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