Clemson: Accusations of Gaming Rankings Are “Outrageous”

Image Courtesy of U.S. News and World Report

Let our journalists help you make sense of the noise: Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter and get a recap of news that matters.


Yesterday, we reported on Clemson University’s basically admitting that it manipulates U.S. News and World Report‘s college rankings. Now, the university has done an about face and denied any pandering, calling the accusations “outrageous” and “untrue.” From a statement issued by Clemson today:

 

To some extent the “evidence” of manipulation shared at the Association for Institutional Research meeting falls into the category of the same old “urban legends” that Clemson has been dealing since adopting the vision of becoming one of the nation’s top-ranked public universities. Every year or two, one of these myths starts making the rounds again. But the insinuation of unethical behavior crosses the line.

Okay, but it’s not like Clemson was the victim of some smear campaign launched by a rival university. In fact, its own director of institutional research did the insinuating, saying Clemson “walked the fine line between illegal, unethical, and really interesting.” Once you’ve already admitted something like that, it’s awfully hard to take it back.

Which is not to say Clemson isn’t trying its darnedest to clear its name. The main line of defense seems to be that not everything the university has done in the past five years has affected its USNWR ranking. “You could take 5 facts and build a case that all we’re interested in are the rankings,” writes Cathy Sams, Clemson’s chief public affairs officer. You could take another 5 facts and build a case that we’re completely ignoring them” To wit:

…during that same time we invested in other major projects, such as launching three off-campus economic development centers, doubling PhD enrollment, and building a nationally ranked cyber-infrastructure…

See? See how much they don’t care about national rankings? Oy.

This disingenuity wouldn’t be much more than annoying and embarrassing if it weren’t yet another sign of the depressing trend of turning education into one big numbers game. Which would be all well and good if it actually made schools better, but there’s more and more evidence that designing learning to measure up with external yardsticks—be they rankings or high stakes tests—doesn’t work. Yesterday, Inside Higher Ed pointed out two ways in which Clemson’s pandering has already hurt students:

But many of the administrators and data analysts in the audience were clearly troubled by Watt’s description of Clemson’s approach, especially as she pointed out that the university has grown more exclusive (fewer than 10 percent of its undergraduates are first-generation college students) and has “favored merit over access in a poor state,” sending tuitions rising.”To me it’s a little unsettling what you’re doing,” said one audience member. “You had a perfectly good institution” before.

Sacrificing students for the sake of the rankings rat race? That’s the real outrage.

Update: USNWR says it’s one step ahead of Clemson.

Update: On USNWR’s peer assessment survey, which accounts for a quarter of a school’s overall ranking, college administrators gave their own schools rave reviews while playing down competitor institutions.

SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

payment methods

SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate