The University of Virginia ranks among the top 10 universities in the nation for its graduate programs in English literature, French and German, according to a major new evaluation of university programs in the humanities.
The ratings, issued by the National Academy of Sciences and three other prestigious academic groups, also give above-average marks to Virginia's programs in Spanish and art history.
Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore placed among the top 10 in English and art history, making it the only other school in Maryland, Virginia or the District of Columbia to score so high in any of the nine fields evaluated.
The University of Maryland received a strong rating in English, placing 27th out of 106 rated programs. It tied with Virginia in Spanish and art history, where both schools did well enough to place among the top 10 public universities in the country though considerably below the nation's very best.
The three other local universities included in the report -- American, Catholic and Georgetown -- ranked average or below in all the fields in which they were rated.
The evaluations, which also included classics, linguistics, music and philosophy, are the second installment in a five-volume series covering 32 academic fields and scheduled to appear over the next two months.
Besides the National Academy of Sciences, the project is sponsored by American Council on Education, the American Council of Learned Societies and the Social Science Research Council.
It is the first comprehensive evaluation of research and doctoral programs in American universities since a study in 1970 by the American Council on Education.
The five-volume project is based on surveys of about 5,000 senior faculty members around the country, including more than 1,000 in the humanities fields.
Nationally, Harvard University did the best in the humanities, ranking or tying for first in four of the nine fields surveyed. Princeton and Yale had firsts in three fields each.
In the project's first report, on math and physical sciences, issued in late September, the University of California at Berkeley scored highest, tying for first in four of the six fields rated. In the humanities report, Berkeley had one first, a tie in music, though it was also in the top 10 in most other humanities fields.
The new reports, unlike the 1970 study, give no numerical rankings. But they do present average scores on the reputation for scholarship and teaching in each department, which can be used to make comparisons.
By this measure the University of Virginia ranked third in English literature, fifth in French, ninth in German, 20th in art history and 24th in Spanish. Johns Hopkins was seventh in English and ninth in art history. The University of Maryland was 20th in art history, 24th in Spanish and 27th in English
In the 1970 study, Virginia ranked ninth in English, but received no ranking in any other field because it scored below the top 20 to 30 schools specifically ranked in each one. Hopkins was eighth in English in 1970 and 11th in French. Maryland was not mentioned in any of the 1970 humanities rankings.
In the hard science rankings in September, Maryland had strong ratings, though not in the national top 10, in computer sciences, physics and mathematics. The University of Virginia scored considerably lower in all those fields.
"We've decided we ought to build on our strengths in literature and languages," said Dexter Whitehead, dean of the graduate school at the University of Virginia. "And we've had some success. We've also made an effort to improve the sciences. But frankly there are only so many good people to go around there, and with large federal grants going to other institutions it's difficult to match the competition."
In the English literature ranking, Virginia's best, its department placed below Yale and the University of California at Berkeley, but above Harvard, the University of Chicago, Columbia, Johns Hopkins and Cornell.