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Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who's the fairest one of all?


"Mirror, mirror so perverse,
Who's #3 in the universe?"

[Note added later: a downloadable pdf containing information in this post is available: NSFfellowshipData.pdf ]

Trying to get a handle on where we are at the University of Minnesota is a tough job. Evaluating this is made even harder by less than transparent claims made by our administration - claims that they have to make rather than admit the failure of their boast of becoming one of the top three public research universities in the world [sic].

A recent example of these pitiful efforts was given by Provost Sullivan as described in this post: University of Minnesota Provost Declares Shanghai Rankings Best. As is pointed out in this link: "Some people follow the world school rankings published in Shanghai blindly. You'd be foolish to do so."

And these claims for Shanghai superiority, despite evidence to the contrary that he, himself, presented to the Board of Regents last Fall and despite the fact that the Shanghai ratings have been the subject of world-wide ridicule. Do you know that a dead Nobel Prize winner from eons ago still counts in your Shanghai ranking? Did you know that a, say, econ paper is worth more than a chemistry paper, because it is longer?

It is really indicative of how bad things are when the Provost has to resort to the Shanghai rankings to support his case that things are improving here. As Erwin Chargaff put it: "It is late in the day, when pygmies cast such long shadows."

But I did run across something today, that I think the Morrill Hall Gang and the Regents might find interesting. Every year the National Science Foundation gives out about two thousand fellowships. These awards go for such things as engineering, physics, biological sciences... There are even some awards for social sciences. It is considered a great honor to get an NSF fellowship and these grad students to be are the best and the brightest and highly sought after.

They are also in the position to pick what graduate school they want to attend, knowing that their stipend will be provided. Thus the source of these people - their undergrad institution - and their choices of graduate institution are quite revealing and probably a pretty decent indication of the current strengths of an institution in terms of both turning out good people and in being attractive as high quality research institutions.

So how did the University of Minnesota do? I'll let you judge. I'll let you decide whether these results validate the hubris about "one of the top three public research universities in the solar system."

(I think we should be comparing ourselves with the other Big~Ten institutions, but the powers that be have declared the ones below to be our aspirational peers, whatever that means...)

From NSF data:

Undergraduate Institution of Fellowship Recipients:

Berkeley (67)

Texas [35]
Michigan (31)
Florida (29)
Illinois (27)
Wisconsin (25)
University of Washington (25)
UCLA (23)

Minnesota (15)

Penn State (13)
Ohio State (12)

U of M Rank 9/11

Graduate Institutions Chosen by Fellows

Berkeley 192

Michigan 74
Washington 56

Wisconsin 37

Illinois 31
Texas 32

Florida 22

Minnesota 21

Ohio State 10
Penn State 7

U of M rank: 9/11

So Provost Sullivan and President Bruininks, which is more indicative of where we stand? The source and choices of two thousand of our best and brightest, or the Shanghai rankings?

(Maybe we could recruit a dead Nobel Prize winner...)

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