Rankings for the Real World

Two political scientists re-rank programs in their field for real-world problem solving


Efforts to rank scholarly programs across the United States have long been controversial, largely due to methodologies that favor quantitative and “reputational” data. This is especially true when it comes to academic programs in the fields of political science and international affairs, where the ability to get research, concepts, and theories related to national security into the hands of actual policymakers is, one would suppose, an important consideration when gauging impact and success.

However, most university ranking systems, like those long published by U.S. News and World Report, rarely if ever take into account policy relevance or engagement when evaluating and celebrating their “top schools.” To help prevent university research centers from “ranking themselves into irrelevance,” Michael Desch and Peter Campbell, two professors of political science, decided to compile their own revised rankings that take into account key metrics related to the extent of IR scholars’ engagement in broader policy debates and issues.

Making the case for their methodology in an essay for New America’s website, Desch and Campbell, Carnegie Corporation grantees, take issue with “strictly scholarly criteria of excellence” that fail to evaluate a “department’s engagement with the broader public discourse outside of its academic silos.” Their rankings, which they juxtapose against the canonical “gold standard” of the National Research Council’s “Doctoral Programs in Political Science,” reveals the sometimes wide chasm that still exists between the academic and policy worlds, and the pressing need to connect theory and practice when trying to solve real-world challenges.