There’s an old saying that you don’t just read a book – it reads you. Atwood, Davies and Tolstoy affect us all in different ways, based on our own attitudes and experiences. The same can be said of universities. You and I might go to the same school, even take the same classes, yet have very different experiences – every day.
If everyone’s university is unique, then, what should we make of the latest media rankings designed to help people decide which university is “best?” If it’s true that you make your own education, these surveys are irrelevant. What matters is whether a school has the depth to take you as far as you care to go –whether you’re studying microbes or Milton.
Evidently, this is not clear to everyone. Many people were surprised to see U of T score low marks in The Globe and Mail’s recent “University Report Card.” The survey’s methodology was flawed to begin with, since its sample wasn’t random and its rankings were based on qualitative criteria. More fundamentally, though, the attractions of a university are too diverse and ambiguous to quantify.
Still, the Globe’s project was not a complete failure. St. George students said they find course selection “phenomenal” and the libraries “fantastic.” They’re not so happy with parking or food, but they appreciate the university’s unique downtown setting. “There is so much to do, so much to discover,” reports one student, “and it’s all at your fingertips.”
When it comes to quality of education, students think U of T is tops. “The education here, although somewhat impersonal, really pushes a student to reach their maximum potential,” comments one respondent. “U of T is a rigorous academic university,” adds another. “If you want an easy, somewhat useful education, go elsewhere. If you crave challenge and excellence, you will end up here.”
Even complaints are touched with pride. As one University of Toronto at Scarborough student says, “I’m discouraged by the direction and the attitudes that are prevalent in my fields of study. However, I also feel that while I disagree with my professors, the education that I’m receiving from this institution is preparing me to think critically and formulate my own opinions with the confidence of my own convictions.”
U of T knows it’s not perfect. It recently signed on to a major U.S.– based survey service to probe student satisfaction – not for ranking purposes (or to sell newspapers), but to probe the characteristics that define quality learning today. And one of the key goals of Provost Shirley Neuman’s current academic-planning process is to find new ways to improve the student experience at U of T. In the meantime, the university can take pride in what it accomplishes every day. “It’s a demanding school that doesn’t cater to those who are weak of heart and mind,” notes one student. “It’ll work you dry, but it will teach you things you never dreamed of learning.”