AS A STUDENT AT THE UNIVERSITY of Washington, the most maddening task I had to perform—aside from trudging up 900 steps from the Montlake parking lot to get to my classes in Denny Hall—was filling out the teacher evaluation at the end of the term. A few years ago, before this magazine was born, I went back to college, solely inspired by a class on ancient myth offered through the Seattle Arts and Lectures Wednesday University series. One passage from Ovid’s Metamorphoses as illuminated by UW classics professor Catherine Connors sent me intellectually foraging 2,500 years into the past.
But at the end of every term, we’d devote class time to marking up standardized forms with number two pencils: How many hours did you spend studying outside of class? How well did the instructor explain the material? Did the teacher arrive to class on time? Even the open-ended questions—What did you like about the class? What could the instructor do to improve?—seemed designed to leach any passion out of a student’s assessment of the learning experience. I know, I know: These surveys provide useful benchmarks for teachers and administrators. And any registered UW student can access the survey results online and learn that a course taught by Connors on the whole was excellent to very good, and that the effectiveness of her contributions was also excellent to very good. Since then, though, student comments on RateMyProfessors.com have proliferated, and now a student can also discover that Connors is “wonderful! …I absolutely recommend her.” One student found her class so compelling, she changed her minor to classics.
So, in the spirit of scholarly pursuit, we ranked the outstanding field of Washington and Oregon colleges in this issue by delving beyond campus marketing brochures, SAT scores, and tuition costs. To size up the institutions and the caliber of their graduates, our crack research editor (Stefan Durham, Reed College ’00) used information supplied by schools and national research firms, and then unearthed the kind of unbiased insight only students could offer. And senior editor Matthew Halverson enrolled himself in a crash course in Northwest academia to become an overnight expert on everything from weird campus traditions to school mascots. He learned, for example, two schools have mascots named Victor E. Viking. We think you’ll learn a few things, too.