This started as a comment on the previous post, which notes that the NRC rankings give virtually no premium for faculty size. The rankings almost entirely work on the premise that if you take a good department and randomly eliminate half its faculty, the resulting department is equally good. This is fairly nutty for the purposes of ranking for the purposes of graduate programs in a field as sparse as sociology, where student interests often change and many students have to make a big substantive reach in putting together committees even in reasonably-sized programs.
If NRC was going to do regular rankings using this methodology and a department wanted to game their ranking, the single best thing a department could do would be to revoke tenure and fire the least productive-and-award-winning half of their faculty. Thing is, after they’ve done that, the single best thing that department could do is fire the bottom half of their faculty, and so on, until you have a department of one (but, oh, what a highly-ranked one!).
Which raised a question for me that I’ve thought about from time to time: how bad does a faculty member need to be before they actually make a department worse? I mean, to my mind, there is a big difference in my mind between “below-average colleague” and “this person is actively harming our department with their presence.” Can a faculty member actively harm a department simply by being non-productive, via a contagion of sloth, by leeching away at a sense of excellence, or by setting a bad example for students? Or do they have to be a source of strange faculty votes and timesuck-for-everyone bomb-throwing battles of righteous indignation?