Earlier this September, Drake ran through the 6ix straight past UTSU Fest and made an appearance at Ryerson University’s orientation. While Ryerson turned up the 6ix god, U of T students, quietly licking their wounds, had to settle for Shawn Desman. Perhaps the bigger blow to U of T’s ego, however, came when the QS World University Rankings, were released. The honour of top university in Canada — a gold star on U of T’s report card, and a topic of incessant conversation across campus — was bestowed upon McGill University, much to the horror of U of T devotees everywhere.
These recent failings have led many to claw desperately for other indicators of U of T’s superiority. Unsurprisingly, then, you could hear sighs of relief when Times Higher Education released its World University Rankings on September 30, in which U of T was once again named the top university in the country.
The yearly frenzy over university rankings calls for critical reflection about our obsession with U of T’s institutional superiority. Falling for the narrative of U of T supremacy is as blinding as it is misguided — specifically, we should not be so quick to dismiss other universities simply based on their ranking.
First, we need to remember the relative subjectivity of rankings due to varying evaluation criteria. For instance, Times Higher Education assesses universities based on factors like citations, quality of teaching, international outlook, and research. In contrast, the QS World University Rankings based their results on things like employer reputation and student-to-faculty ratio. In fact, this difference in data collection is the reason why QS ranked U of T thirty-fourth in the world overall, while it is nineteenth according to Times’ analysis.
At face value, then, university rankings are rather arbitrary. Yet many students are all too keen to take U of T’s excellence for granted and skip the fine print. While U of T receives stellar rankings in categories like research (where Times ranked us eleventh globally), we are outperformed in other categories. As much as we like to believe that employers favour U of T graduates, for instance, Maclean’s granted the award for best reputation (as considered by leaders in education and business) to the University of Waterloo in 2015.
In light of this, it is important to reconsider our role within the ‘#1’ context. We can be proud of certain aspects of U of T, but we are by no means perfect — there is always room for improvement, and arrogance. In fact, our university also has problems that other institutions are doing a much better job of addressing.
Consider, for instance, the fact that many U of T students feel isolated or disconnected on campus. We can look to the strong school spirit at Queen’s, Western, or even McGill for potential solutions. Another example is, while U of T is dragging its heels to produce a coherent strategy to combat sexual violence on campus, the University of Saskatchewan and St. Thomas University have both released relevant policies in the last two weeks.
We should also recognize that U of T’s narrative of superiority often, and negatively, shapes the individual behavior of students. In particular, students often adopt an air of personal aggrandizement and elitism, just by virtue of attending this university. I have seen U of T students who barely crack open their textbooks preach entire sermons about the inferiority of York or Ryerson students, often accompanied by grumbles about ‘grade deflation’ and professors that are out to get them.
It is absolutely unacceptable to invalidate other students just because they do not attend this university, and I cannot fathom how this bullying has somehow become part of U of T’s identity. Going to a ‘top’ school does not necessarily make you a top student. The skills we need to develop academically do not magically come to us the moment we stepped foot into this university. We are not gods among men by any stretch of the imagination, nor are we better than students at Ryerson or York just because Times said so. These are sobering truths that many of us remain unwilling to admit.
Consequently, it is up to us to see the university not only as a place of triumph, but one with potential for improvement. If we want U of T to be ‘#1,’ then we have to go out and actually make that happen — both on an institutional and personal level. Without that effort on our part, we have absolutely nothing to brag about.
Teodora Pasca is a second-year student at Innis College studying criminology and ethics, society & law. Her column appears every three weeks. She is an associate comment editor at the Varsity.