Revisionist History, season 6, "Project Dillard" and "Lord of the Rankings" by Malcolm Gladwell
July 8, 2021
In season 6 of the Revisionist History podcast, Malcolm Gladwell teams up with students from Reed College to hack the algorithm used by US News and World Report each year to publish their rankings of the nation's colleges and universities. Their findings reveal in stark detail the underlying racism and class privilege that undergird these rankings, and the lengths leaders in higher education will go to ensure their place in the upper levels of the lists. Gladwell demonstrates indisputably that the actual experience of students and the excellence of their education can be completely irrelevant in terms of where each school falls on the list each year. Colleges, like Reed, that decline to participate in the rankings have faced pressure to stay in the game, and many historically black colleges cannot find their way into the rankings at all because this system of ranking disregards, completely, the things that HBUCs do so well—mentoring, recognizing the challenges of individual students, especially those from impoverished backgrounds, and the like. Gladwell takes a particularly close look at Dillard University. This school has an admirable mission, and by many standards should be on the radar of many students, yet it is completely unknown to those who rely so heavily on the US News and World Report lists. Again, Gladwell acts as an important gadfly in surfacing the ugly assumptions that are baked into our system of rating institutions of higher education, and he shows them to be more of a sham than a reliable guide.