College Rankings Revisited

Two weeks ago, FIT was named as one of the top five fashion colleges in the world by The Business of Fashion—the popular daily digital newsletter that covers the world of fashion globally. For me, it is a confounding piece of news. On the one hand, I want to cheer and fist-pump—and on the other, I want to sigh and say, “Oh no…not another one of those rankings that so mislead the public.”

Followers of my blog know how I feel about college rankings. But before I go there, let me state the facts, at least in terms of this most recent finding and several others that have recently been released.

In The Business of Fashion, FIT ranked number 5 in its “best overall” category worldwide and number 3 worldwide in its “most influential” category. The Washington Monthly placed FIT at number 8 in the “Best Bang for the Buck” category for colleges in the Northeast while ranked us 5th in its list of the country’s most affordable bachelor’s programs in “entrepreneurship.” Earlier this year, ranked FIT 6th in its 2014 list of the top 50 fashion schools in the world. In another category of rankings,—the salary, benefits and compensation information company—reported that FIT alumni ranked second in the nation among community colleges in terms of median mid-career salaries (at $72,100) while our bachelor degree art majors came in second as well with a median mid-career salary of $91,800.

Like many college presidents, professors and higher education professionals, I view these rankings with skepticism. If you really think about them—and their criteria and sources of information—it is hard to understand why the public thinks they are useful. As I said in a blog last fall, their quantitative approach to educational institutions and questionable criteria invariably fail to capture the true zeitgeist and quality of a college. Nor can they predict if a college is the right fit for a particular student, no matter how highly it is ranked.

And that, for me, is the biggest issue. Each college and university has its own “special nature,” a nature, environment and mission far too complex to be portrayed through numerical algorithms. And each prospective student has his or her unique nature as well—a nature that is also too wonderfully complex—to be reduced to numerical algorithms. So it is difficult at best to see how a college’s numerical ranking can predict whether students A, B, or C would thrive there.

I grant you that selecting the “right” college for a student is a challenging job. Over the years, I have met countless prospective students and their parents as they tour our campus; I have talked to them about their questions and concerns—felt their confusion and excitement as well. It is hard not to be sympathetic. How much simpler it would be for them if FIT, or any college, could be captured in a survey! How much simpler if they could trust that being ranked number three or five would ensure happiness and success in their college years.

So it is hard to ignore the rankings and to pretend that they do not carry weight in my world, especially in that ephemeral realm of “reputation.” I know how important they are to so many of our constituents and smile with pleasure when I see the pride they take in FIT’s good showings. It is in that context in particular that I want to cheer and do my happy dance. I just hope that students and their families recognize that surveys are only one of many resources available to help them in their college selection—and that when they start looking, they research well and deeply to determine the many ways colleges do or do not match up with the student’s individual interests, talents, needs and ambitions.

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Graduate Students Research the Changing Beauty Landscape

IMG_6180As we come closer to the launch of our innovation center, I am reminded of the kind of innovative work that comes out of our pioneering MPS program in Cosmetics and Fragrance Marketing and Management. This comes to mind now because the Class of 2015 has been invited to present at the Luxury Interactive conference—both in New York and in London this coming October. These are very prestigious gatherings of over 300 executives representing top global brands, so it is quite a coup for them and for FIT.

I had the pleasure of attending the Class of 2015’s Capstone presentation in June. The MPS program has been in operation for 14 years and I try never to miss these events because they are always so outstanding. Indeed, the program is becoming known as the beauty industry’s “think tank,” and for good reason. This year, the Capstone theme was “The Future of Luxury”—a critical topic driving every consumer-focused business today, including the beauty business. With LVMH as a sponsor and in collaboration with the Boston Consulting Group, our students conducted original research examining the values of new luxury consumers, new epicenters of luxury and new luxury platforms and offered a plethora of important and compelling new information.


» Read the 2015 Capstone White Papers

Indeed, the MPS program now has developed a rich enough archive of research from past Capstone projects that for the first time, students were able to cite previous Capstone data in their presentations. Going forward, I am sure our students will build on that archive and offer an important, continuing resource of evolving information for industry.

I couldn’t help thinking about FIT’s founders as I listened to the presentations that evening in June. When they opened the doors to FIT in 1944, they wanted it to become an “MIT for the fashion industry.” Imagine how proud and amazed they would be to see the kind of advanced research that this program produces—and to know that FIT students are now being invited to share their research with industry internationally.

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Bright-Eyed Bebe

10FO4210There is a saying familiar to every parent that one is only as happy as one’s unhappiest child. The same is true for those of us who house, care for, pamper, and nurture—we never own—pets. As some of you may know, I am privileged to share my life with Bebe, a gorgeous, brilliant, and commanding 12- year- old Bichon Frisé. If you live or work on campus or nearby, you may have seen him over the years on his daily walks, head up, briskly moving along, happy to greet you, confident and—frankly—somewhat royal in his bearing. He is short as dogs go, but he has a Big Dog attitude and will never let you forget it.

In recent months, however, Bebe’s sense of his Big Dog self has been challenged. Actually, it began last year when I noticed that those big black shiny buttons that are his eyes were starting to look a bit cloudy and grey. As time went on, he began bumping into things as he dashed—or even wandered—around the house. In any other dog, you would have heard whimpers and whines or yelps of complaint. Not my Bebe. He is a brave and tough little guy who never complains about anything. (Too déclassé for him.) By now, of course, I knew—as did he—that he was going blind. I had taken him to his vet who diagnosed cataracts. Who knew that dogs can get cataracts? And as it happens, Bichon Frisés are prone to cataracts, as are dogs who have diabetes. And unfortunately, Bebe also has diabetes. Now we had to decide whether to have the cataracts removed.

While the prognosis was good, the idea of surgery certainly made me nervous. Bebe is an older dog…well, perhaps “mature” is the better word. He is also sensitive to anesthesia. So given that, along with his diabetes, the decision to proceed wasn’t clear cut. Dogs do adapt to blindness and with his exceptional intelligence and courage, I felt he could do well. However, I finally decided he deserved an opportunity to have his eyesight restored.

Reader, I am happy to tell you the operation was a success! The surgery took place in late June. He spent one night in the hospital during which I suffered more than he did. The recuperation period, however, was another story. In order to keep his eyes protected, he had to wear what is called an “Elizabethan collar”—you fashion historians will know why. It is really a cone reminiscent of the gigantic neck ruffs that distinguished 16th and 17th century English apparel. At first, the vet had it fastened with a black and white polka dot bow—not at all Bebe’s style. But bow tie or not, Bebe hated it.


Anyone would. Oh, he didn’t complain, but you could tell that he was uncomfortable and that it made him antsy. He had to constantly recalculate his movements and the spaces around him: the walls, the corners of rooms and buildings, doorways, even his food bowls. He had to figure out how to fit into some of his favorite spots: under certain pieces of furniture, for instance, or into the red carrier that I use to travel with him. He loves this bag. How on earth could he maneuver that long clumsy cone into this beloved bag? Bebe and I managed this one as a team: we inched his little body into the bag tail-end first. But in general, he is clever and creative. He managed, by experimentation, to get around quite confidently. Most important, of course, now he could see. Day by day, his vision improved. Day by day, he became the happy dog-person we were used to having in our midst.

Today Bebe is confident and commanding. His vision has returned; the cone is off. Once again, he trots around the neighborhood and recognizes the usual landmarks: the trees, the buildings, his doggy neighbors. Once again, he dashes around the apartment without bumping into walls and chairs and misplaced objects. Once again, his button eyes are bright, black and shiny, and we are grateful for his renewed vision and spirit.

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Pluto on the Horizon

Images were combined with color data to create this enhanced view of Pluto.

The pictures of Pluto beaming down to us from that amazing little spacecraft called New Horizons are stunning—and utterly inspiring. Well, in my mind, everything about NASA’s mission to reach Pluto is stunning and amazing and inspiring. There it is, on the very edge of our solar system—and thanks to this idealistic mission, we can see it, study it, learn from it.

Reaching Pluto has been a dream since the Kennedy era, and probably since it was discovered some 85 years ago. We have now completed what NASA says is the “initial reconnaissance of the solar system.” As the cosmologist Stephen Hawking said in congratulating NASA, “We explore because we are human and we long to know.” A sentiment close to the heart of any educator, I think.

The success of this mission helps to reinforce in me a faith in American—no, make that human—competency and commitment. These may seem minor elements in this story, but think of it: New Horizons was launched over nine years ago. Pluto is over three billion miles away. At least three billion things could have gone wrong over that time, anything from a computer glitch to a chance encounter with a bit of dust that could alter, or completely destroy, the mission. And then, of course, there is the matter of time. Think of the persistence…the mind-set…the sheer patience of the scientists working on this project. (I wonder…could this mission have been conceived in today’s “instant gratification” culture?)

January 19, 2006: New Horizons Launches for Pluto
January 19, 2006: New Horizons Launches for Pluto

So this is a remarkable achievement: a “hallmark in human history” a leading NASA scientist called it. Surely on those days when we are less than confident in the world we occupy, this achievement offers hope and inspiration. In the months ahead, New Horizons will be feeding us data that will start to provide answers to our endless questions about our universe and ourselves. And the beauty of it is that the more we know, the more we want to know—that is, I think, human nature. Our capacity for wonder is ceaseless. In so many ways, thanks to New Horizons, we have just begun.

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Celebrating a Historic Step Toward Equality

Celebrating a Historic Step Toward Equality

It seemed especially appropriate that just a week before a quintessentially American holiday—Independence Day—we were able to commemorate another great step forward in U.S. history: the Supreme Court’s ruling on same-sex marriage. Indeed, this was a remarkable moment to which we have all been witness.

As I have often said and we all acknowledge, FIT is committed to the concepts and practices that prevent and condemn discrimination of any kind. This institution—its entire community—thrives and becomes better by diversity of all kinds. My unwavering personal conviction is that diversity enhances our ability to become better citizens, to broaden our horizons, and to better prepare all of us for professional—and personal—success.

I hope that you join me in celebrating both equality and independence. It is again heartening to be part of the American educational system where we can acknowledge and teach the value of tolerance, diversity, and humanity.

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