Friday, January 11, 2013

Ain't Misreportin' Again?

In the course of his recent interview with himself, FAQs on Recent Data Misreporting by Colleges, Robert Morse, director of data research for U.S. News & World Report, hears himself saying that misreporting, by Tulane University, George Washington University, Emory University, and Claremont McKenna College, is no biggie because:

"We have no reason to believe that other schools have misreported data—and we therefore have no reason to believe that the misreporting is widespread."

Mr. Moore, who has worked at U.S. News and World Report since 1976, blogs at the Morse Code: Inside the College Rankings, which forum is intended to provide "deeper insights into the methodologies" of the rankings game.

Found this image of legitimate mischief-making here:'t+misbehavin'

Ok, so how's this for a deep insight: if your only method of checking for accuracy is a voluntary admission of guilt from the institution that misreported data in the first place, you'll never have any other reason to believe that misreporting is widespread.

And, in the four cases at issue, Tulane, George Washington, Emory, and Claremont-McKenna, it seems plain that U.S. News and World Report would have remained forever clueless about the misreporting had not the institutions themselves, after their own internal investigations, reported the mistakes voluntarily. 

I believe there are other ways of practicing journalism.

Whatever: one reason I’m so touchy about this stuff is that, at one of the places I work, Westchester Community College, of the State University of New York system, misreporting on at least one measure has been something of a tradition. 

Westchester’s website, for instance, under "faculty," reports 164 full-time faculty, as of October 2011, and no part-time faculty at all. (In “Westchester Community College at a Glance, Current Year) Various folks, and I myself, have wondered about this for several years, knowing, as part-time adjuncts, that there are divisions at WCC in which 85% of sections are taught by us. 

So, where is us, we cry? Well, we did find us, in the (not on line) Westchester Community College Handbook for Adjunct Faculty, for 2010-2011, in a couple of pie charts stuck in the middle—these charts weren't in the full-timers' handbook, by the way—and in those pies we were the super-plentiful little raisins: 1245.

Where’d they come from? On the inside back cover of that same handbook you can read a figure of just 175 faculty, total, all full-time, as of October 2009. 

How’s that work? Again, where is us?

Now, just lately, I have it on the authority of my local’s union treasurer—an adjunct, and the first adjunct to hold that position—that as of November 2012, there are 768 adjunct faculty on the college payroll.

How does he know? Well, he has to look at the agency fees and union dues, every two weeks, that are collected by WCC and deposited in the Westchester Community College Federation of Teacher’s (WCCFT) union account, in order to calculate how much of that needs to be sent to our state organization, NYSUT.  

Mystery solved. So when will that figure be properly reported?

I don’t think, really—though I don’t know for sure—that the Westchester Community Colleges of the world matter too much to U.S. News and World Report, in its business of marketing annual Big-and-Best Reviews, or Believe-or-Not-in-Higher Education editions, or whatever they do, but it’s worth noticing—isn’t it?—that reporting practices and journalistic standards across various higher education neighborhoods are not all they ought to be. 

In my own neck of the woods, by the way, I have brought up my objections with Judith A. Myers, who is a County Legislator, 7th District, on the Westchester County Board of Legislators. She seemed both surprised, by the numbers and the working conditions of the majority adjunct faculty at Westchester Community College, and sympathetic, when I first spoke to her last year about these problems. But I haven't heard much lately, and the local press doesn't seem too interested. 

So, let’s hang on, I suppose, is the best advice, in regard to not only my local WCC problems, but in regard to the various scandals of higher ed misreporting nationally, on which I have barely touched here.

Hang on, sure, but that’s not enough: keep after them. I’ll be trying to take my own advice in coming months.

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