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Magazine selective on college rankings

In its first annual special section on college admissions, The Atlantic Monthly spends a lot of ink questioning the usefulness of college rankings . . . before offering college rankings of its own. The November issue includes an article by Don Peck picking apart the "fetishistic appeal" of US News-style statistics on college selectivity. "Such a [selectivity] rating seems to provide clarity," Peck writes. "But the clarity is an illusion." He points out, for example, that it's easier to get into MIT than Swarthmore if you're a woman, and that early-decision candidates often have an advantage. The Atlantic then offers its own tabulation of the 50 most selective colleges. Could the magazine be after the 11 million readers it says the US News rankings draw? No, "we are not trying to capitalize on that market," said managing editor Cullen Murphy. "We put the chart together to illustrate how slippery and often pointless the idea of selectivity is." It's interesting to note that US News' fourth best university, MIT, comes out as Atlantic's most selective -- based on admission rate, SAT scores, and class rank of matriculating freshmen -- followed by Princeton, the California Institute of Technology, Yale, and Harvard.

PRESIDENT WANTED: Should the next UMass president be a rabid Red Sox fan? That's one suggestion the UMass presidential search committe received on its tour of the five state campuses last week. Several dozen staff, students, and faculty at UMass-Boston showed up before 10 a.m. Thursday -- the morning after the Red Sox's disastrous playoff opener -- to give their two cents to committee members. Asked what they want in their next president, they had no shortage of requests: An articulate leader who will improve the school's reputation, build diversity, foster collaboration between campuses, strengthen international ties, and stay in the job for at least a decade. (Not likely on that last one, said search consultant Bill Funk.) UMass staffer Dianne Cleary asked for a leader who will engage with students -- and root for the Red Sox. "I'd like to see a president who stays awake until 3 in the morning, and cries when they lose on a bunt. In other words, a real person," she said. Funk promised background checks to screen out pretenders (and Yankees fans?), and "fine-tuning" of job criteria to reflect the campus input. He expects the pool of contenders to be set by mid-November.

I'LL TAKE RIVALRY, FOR $200: There were competitors from 15 colleges in Friday's taping of the "Jeopardy!" college tournament, but Harvard junior Mary Naam said her biggest fear was losing to Robert Schrum, the entrant from archrival Yale. She's already conceding home-field advantage: The show is being taped in New Haven. "All I've heard from people on campus is that I have to beat Yale," said Naam, who already bested 1,000 Harvard students for a spot on the show, set to air in November. "I don't want to come back if I do really badly."

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