I read this quote by Bard College president Leon Botstein about U.S. News in a recent issue of the New Yorker (here is the full article). "It's one of the real black marks on the history of higher education that an entire industry that's supposedly populated by the best minds in the country - theoretical physicists, writers, critics - is bamboozled by a third-rate news magazine." It is interesting, isn't it, that the organizations that come up with rankings aren't foundations or nonprofits, but the magazines that will sell those rankings as special issues?
The New Yorker article itself (a profile of Botstein by Alice Gregory) is a great read. Gregory has a way with words too, just like Botstein, but I'll let you judge for yourselves. (She happens to be a Bard graduate.) The article seems to be available in its full version online, even for non-subscribers. And here is the link to Bard College's website, if you'd like to learn more about it. It seems like a fascinating, innovative institution. Gregory about the students Bard strives to attract: "Rather than being student-body presidents or varsity point guards, they took black-and-white photographs of their friends’ shoes, wrote first chapters of postmodern novels, and played in noise bands... Though sixty-five per cent of Bard’s student body receives financial aid, and twenty-two per cent of this year’s entering class is eligible for Pell Grants, there’s a small but culturally significant population of extremely wealthy kids on campus—the children of media moguls, rock stars, and Hollywood actors." Botstein has chosen to attract public intellectuals - poets, filmmakers, novelists - rather than star PhDs to teach Bard students, an endeavor undoubtedly helped by the relative proximity of Bard College to New York City. Bard College comes across as a remarkable institution, and Botstein as, well, a very complicated individual with very strong opinions that is not without reminding me (because of his leadership style) of NYU President John Sexton as profiled in the New Yorker in 2013 by Rachel Aviv, although no one can beat Botstein's rhetorical flourish and idiosyncrasies. One of a kind, made likable in spite of everything by that quote of Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom! a former faculty member used to describe him ("he had been too successful, you see; his was that solitude of contempt and distrust which success brings to him who gained it because he was strong instead of merely lucky") and Gregory's portrayal of his childhood, which resulted in "an lifelong allegiance to underdogs". Welcome to the club. Maybe that's what it took to make Bard what it is today - while its financial outlook is not as secure as one would like, as explained in the article, it does seem like a unique, special place for tomorrow's public intellectuals, taught by today's.