Clemson: Accusations of Gaming Rankings Are “Outrageous”

Image Courtesy of U.S. News and World Report


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.

$500,000 MATCHING GIFT

In 2014, before Donald Trump announced his run for president, we knew we had to do something different to address the fundamental challenge facing journalism: how hard-hitting reporting that can hold the powerful accountable can survive as the bottom falls out of the news business.

Being a nonprofit, we started planning The Moment for Mother Jones: A special campaign to raise $25 million for key investments to make Mother Jones the strongest watchdog it can be. Five years later, readers have stepped up and contributed an astonishing $23 million in gifts and future pledges. This is an incredible statement from the Mother Jones community in the face of the huge threats—both economic and political—against the free press.

Read more about The Moment and see what we've been able to accomplish thanks to readers' incredible generosity so far, and please join them today. Your gift will be matched dollar for dollar, up to $500,000 total, during this critical moment for journalism.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight 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

We have a new comment system! We are now using Coral, from Vox Media, for comments on all new articles. We'd love your feedback.