College Rankings

I am not a fan of college rankings. 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. But choosing a college can be an overwhelming experience, and it is easy to understand why college applicants and their families look to them so often for guidance.

Recently a new and insightful college ranking system was developed by a research company that wanted to learn where students who are admitted to more than one institution actually enroll. It found that colleges with a special mission far outrank the Harvards and Yales. The top ranked national liberal arts college in this survey turned out to be the U.S. Air Force Academy, which is number 25 on the U.S. News & World Report list. Mt. Holyoke, one of the country’s few remaining women’s colleges, is number 38 in U.S. News’s rankings, but number 13 in this survey.

Where does FIT fit in this picture? Well, because we do not “fit” into the categories used by U.S. News, we are not part of its survey. But in a recent article in the New York Times about this research, FIT was mentioned as one of those mission-specific institutions–like RISD or Brigham Young–with a great, if hidden, advantage. As the article pointed out, “many students have found that the best school for them is not necessarily the highest ranked, but one that is most tailored with respect to type of education or fellow students.” So if they are looking for a specific kind of education or even environment, they might choose a religious institution like Brigham Young, for instance, over Carnegie Mellon or Wesleyan.

This is no surprise to me. FIT has no shortage of applicants. Moreover, a remarkable 82 percent of the students we accept actually enroll–which tells me that those who apply to FIT really want to be here. On the other hand, I worry about the thousands of prospective students who rely on U.S. News and other such guides, and never learn about schools such as FIT that do not appear in the rankings–or even why those that do, such as Mt. Holyoke or Brigham Young, may be just the right ones for them.

The numbers that make up rankings are incapable of telling a story–of reflecting quality. They cannot convey a college’s atmosphere, the tenor of its student body, the rigor of its programs (and which among them are special or unique to that college), the quality and passions of its faculty, indeed, the quality of campus life, its physical environment, its co-curricular programs–or a host of other related matters that prospective students should consider. They cannot tell why a particular student would–or would not–fit a particular college, regardless of its ranking. That is why U.S. News & World Report, and all of the other metric-based guides, do such a serious disservice to the American public.

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Couture Council Honors Carolina Herrera

Last month, FIT helped kick off Fashion Week at Lincoln Center with our annual Couture Council luncheon. We had the pleasure of honoring Carolina Herrera who drew a house full of admirers, including the crème de la crème of the fashion world. Spirits were high, thanks in part to Seth Meyers, whose repartee as emcee kept everyone laughing–and in part, of course, to the warmth everyone present felt for Carolina. It was all in a good cause: the luncheon raised almost $900,000 for The Museum at FIT.

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No Impact Week

As a college, FIT does a good deal to promote the goals of sustainability. But in the end, those lofty goals will go nowhere if we do not make them personal and take individual responsibility for putting them into practice: recycle our trash, consume mindfully, turn out the lights and so on. This week, FIT is joining a host of other colleges and universities for seven days of “green” activities–designed to raise our collective consciousness–called “No Impact Week.”

Sponsored and organized by the FIT Sustainability Council, it has already generated great buy-in from our entire community: students, faculty and staff–and this does not surprise me given our record on sustainability. Over the course of the week, opportunities to improve the quality of our lives will be offered in many different ways: field trips–to a recycling plant one day to see what happens to our waste and to Coney Island Beach another day to observe marine wildlife; safe biking lessons; a green market on our breezeway with local farmers selling fresh produce; a “weave-a-thon” using salvaged yarns and textiles ; lessons in LEED and a potluck vegetarian dinner–among many others.

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Weave-A-Thon is a crowdsourced art project using salvaged yarns and textiles. Everyone is invited to contribute.

I don’t know if any of us will ever be able to match the “achievements” of Colin Beavan, the man behind “No Impact Week,” who, with his wife, children and dog, famously lived a zero-impact life in the middle of New York City for a year. They used no paper goods, no electricity, no carbon-fueled transportation; they ate only local organically grown foods, etc. and he lived to write about it. The experiment became the subject of a popular book and documentary. I don’t know how many of us want to go that far in our attempt to heal the planet. But certainly we owe it to ourselves and to our community to try–if even with small steps–to do as much as we can to lower our impact on the environment.

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Prince Bebe

10FO4210One day last month, I was going through the pages of Womens Wear Daily and saw an article entitled Dog Days of Summer: Designers Discuss Their Canine Companions. There was Rocky, a Norfolk terrier owned by Georgina Chapman; LouLou, a Maltese belonging to FIT alum Reem Acra; and Gaspar, a toy poodle in the arms of Carolina Herrera. Sitting at my side was Bebe, my bichon frisé, wondering–just as I was–why he had not been included.

Of course, I am not a designer, but FIT is the wellspring of designers who are featured in WWD every day! And I think of Bebe as one of FIT’s most popular and important ambassadors. After all, he welcomes members of the FIT community and industry insiders whenever I host an event in my home. Every time we go for a walk–be it right here on campus or on the surrounding streets in Chelsea–he is greeted with a smile, and often by name. Indeed, I sometimes forget myself and think that the approaching person is smiling at me …but no…the smile is directed at Bebe. Invariably, too, there will be conversation, but again, not with me: with Himself! So since WWD did not think to include Bebe in its article, I have decided to blog about him today, using WWD’s Q & A format and some of its questions.

Dog’s favorite summer activity: chasing geese by the lake in the country and running without his bad-weather boots

His biggest guilty pleasure: eating doggy ice cream and duck treats

His greatest talent: teaching me how to speak and understand “dog”

What he still needs to work on: telling the truth about how many treats he has eaten and controlling his princely attitude and “king of the jungle” self-image

His favorite place on campus: my office desk

His favorite summer outfit: none–and especially not boots.

Now boots or no boots, Bebe can’t live on the FIT campus and escape from the demands of fashion. He positively struts in his cashmere or shearling coats or his Burberry plaid-lined raincoat, all of which complement his snowy white fur. And I am proud to say that he is frequently a featured presence in FIT’s annual pet runway show. He is a very special member of the family and a source of joy and amusement. So I confess that if Bebe has a somewhat privileged and regal air about him, it is because he has no idea he is a dog, and no-one has dared to tell him!

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Tennis Anyone?

With the U.S. Open so much in the air right now, my mind doesn’t turn to Flushing Meadows, but rather right here to 27th Street where, for years, we have been turning out championship tennis teams. That may be surprising to many people who don’t automatically link FIT with tennis or soccer or any sport, for that matter. But the fact is we have 15 teams that compete in the National Junior College Athletic Association which is made up of about 600 two-year colleges across the country. And last year alone, four of our teams placed in the top ten nationally–with the women’s tennis team coming in second two years in a row.

The strength of the FIT athletics and recreation program has been years in the making with a dedicated director and coaches patiently developing teams that meet our students’ needs. But our students are natural competitors. They arrive at FIT filled with career ambitions, and the athletes among them apply that same fierce competitive zeal on the playing fields.

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FIT Women’s Tennis Team

The upshot is that every year we have a roster of winning teams at both the regional and national level. Last year we had two regional team championships: women’s cross country and women’s volleyball. Both of them placed in the top ten nationally, along with the women’s half marathon and, as I mentioned, women’s tennis.

It may sound as if we have no men’s teams–but we do: men compete in cross country, half marathon, outdoor track, swimming, tennis and so on. And over the years, many of our men’s teams also placed high or the men themselves received All-American honors. It didn’t happen last year, but I am rooting for them for the coming year.

As an educator, it is important to me that our athletes find the right balance between their scholastic and athletic lives. And every year, they make me proud. Among the most prestigious athletic awards college athletes can win are those that recognize their academic achievements as well. Last year, eight of our teams won national all-academic team recognition, including men’s tennis (with a group 3.39 GPA), women’s swimming (group 3.44) and the women’s half marathon team (3.80)–which placed first in the country. Thirteen of our students–with GPA’s ranging from 3.6 to 3.9–were individually recognized as well.

And while I am bragging, I might as well point out that our teams, all called the FIT Tigers, wear the best-looking, sharpest, COOLEST uniforms in the country. This is the Fashion Institute of Technology after all.

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