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Yahoo! survey points out a few flaws, but should we take it seriously?

CWRU’s “Most Wired Colleges 2000” ranking, or lack thereof, released this week in Yahoo! Internet Life should come as no surprise. After last year’s well-known exaggerations of our computing capabilities, which catapulted CWRU to number one, it seems reasonable for the university’s responses to this year’s survey to be conservative. This year’s survey is being thought of by some as a “self-corrective,” whether we are serving penance for the 1999 fiasco or merely seeking to avoid a similar mistake this year. In either case, it is odd that the estimate of how “wired” our campus is should be such a moving target. Ideally, the university could paint a more concrete image of itself and its computing resources.

Certainly, the Yahoo! survey points out some areas of our computer prowess that should be improved. Increased availability of networking in classroom and study areas (beyond the library) is a tangible need. The lack of 24/7 public computer labs hurts us in the survey, but then CWRU’s strategy has always been to encourage individual computer ownership instead of late-night runs to the lab. The university also might do well to offer more remote storage space for students – i-drive is a very good start, but 50 megabytes will not be enough in the very near future and the cost of storage is always decreasing. The survey also implies a deficiency in our campus for not offering wireless network access. While this is a nice idea and perhaps should be considered in classrooms and lecture halls, it does not make much sense with the physical size and layout of the CWRU campus as well as the current prevalence of our network.

Perhaps then the extreme discrepancy between our ranking this year and that of 1999 points to a flaw, not in CWRU, but in the Yahoo survey. It is quite obvious that the survey favors mutually exclusive goals: such as all-hours computer lab access and mandatory computer ownership. The survey also considers the existence of Internet-oriented computer courses such as web page design and networking, while altogether ignoring computer science and engineering programs. There are even semantic questions to be raised about a self-entitled “wired” survey that favors “wireless” technologies.

Unfortunately, the Yahoo! survey appears to ignore the most important factor of all: the student’s opinion. Raw strength in numbers and core technologies are meaningless if a network is virtually unusable by students. Conversely, if a school has done great things with limited resources it will easily get passed-over by the survey. While neither of these cases particularly applies to CWRU, the fact that the survey has no student input should make the survey virtually meaningless to students. However, the drop in our rankings, combined with concerns over misrepresentations by the university, hurts our reputation, our programs, and, in the end, even the value of our degrees.

A number of prestigious universities, including Brown, Yale, Harvard and Berkeley, have realized the shortcomings of the survey and declined response to it. It seems then, that until such time as the Yahoo! survey decides what is important (and who thinks it) in making a “wired” university, CWRU would be better off not participating in the “Most Wired Colleges” survey.

  April 21, 2000
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