Columbia whistleblower who exposed college rankings: ‘They’re worthless’ | American University

The revelations of fake data by a Columbia University academic that sent the prestigious institution plummeting in U.S. university rankings have accused its administration of cheating and whitewashing the matter.

By submitting fake numbers to propel the university up the influential U.S. News & World Report rankings, Columbia University is putting its financial priorities ahead of student education, math professor Michael Thaddeus said , in order to fund an ever-expanding and mysterious bureaucracy.

On Monday, U.S. News demoted Columbia University from No. 2 to No. 18 in the latest rankings, after the college acknowledged that some of its previous statements about the quality of education offered by the university were “outdated and/or incorrect.” Methodology”.

“At this point, it’s hard for me to believe that these mistakes were honest and unintentional,” Thaddeus told the Guardian.

He added: “The university’s response was not a blunt, direct, complete response from a university that really wanted to clear the air and really wanted to inform the public. They addressed certain issues, but then they completely ignored or whitewashed others. question.”

Thaddeus embarrassed Columbia and shocked the academic world when he published a lengthy analysis in February accusing the university of submitting “inaccurate, dubious or highly misleading” statistics for U.S. News rankings. Among other things, he disputed claims about class size, which the math professor said he knew from experience was not accurate and asserted that all faculty at the university hold the highest degrees in their fields.

Thaddeus also said the university has greatly inflated teaching spending, claiming that by increasing the cost of patient care at the medical school, it far exceeds that of other Ivy League schools.

Columbia University initially defended its numbers before admitting on Friday that Thaddeus was correct about class sizes and the qualifications of teaching staff. “We deeply regret the deficiencies in our previous report and are committed to doing better,” Columbia University Provost Mary Boyce said in a statement.

In July, the university said it would withdraw from this year’s rankings. U.S. News, which did its own calculations based in part on federal data, dropped the university 16 places this week.

When Columbia University celebrated its astonishing rise in the rankings from 18th in 1988, Thaddeus began digging into the numbers. It broke into the top five in 2011 and finally finished second last year.

“Several other top universities also improved their rankings, but none matched Columbia’s extraordinary rise. It’s natural to wonder what the reasons might be,” he wrote in his analysis.

When Thaddeus began to suspect that Columbia’s numbers didn’t add up, he saw an opportunity to discredit a system he believed to be a scam against would-be students desperate to secure the tens of thousands of dollars that many spend on huge tuition each year is worth it.

U.S. News rankings and less influential rankings from The Wall Street Journal, Forbes and other publications have a big impact on which colleges are favored by potential students. Thaddeus said Columbia’s downfall exposed the poor quality of a system that relied on the institution’s own numbers without checking.

“I have always believed that all university rankings are inherently worthless. They are based on data that has little to do with an institution’s academic merit, and that data may not be accurate in the first place,” he said.

“It was never my goal to get Columbia down the rankings. The better outcome is that if the rankings themselves are knocked down, people stop reading them and don’t take them as seriously as they used to.”

This isn’t the first scandal involving U.S. news rankings. Last year, a former dean of Temple University’s business school in Philadelphia was sent to prison for fraud after manipulating data to give the school a huge jump in the school’s MBA rankings.

But Thaddeus, who has taught at Columbia for 24 years, has another goal — the administration of his university.

The former Columbia University math department chair describes an expanding and self-replicating bureaucracy that is increasingly expensive to maintain. Columbia’s endowment isn’t enough to cover growing administrative costs, so it’s paid for by increasing tuition, he said.

“That means our educational programs have to be run as a money-making business in some way. It’s a secret that cannot be publicly admitted,” he said.
Thaddeus suspects that administrators manipulated the data to boost the university’s rankings to justify rising tuition fees, which amounted to about $65,000 a year, more than five times what parents of today’s students paid in the 1980s.

“It is clear that the growth of university bureaucracy and administration has been the main driver of higher education cost growth, which has grown much faster than inflation. We now have approximately 4,500 administrators on the main campus, which is approximately the number of faculty tripled, which is a new development in the past 20 years,” he said.

“What’s less clear is what all these admins are actually doing. They say more admins are needed to comply with government regulations. That might make some sense, but not much because these problematic regulations were made decades ago Yes. I don’t know much about the new university rules.”

Thaddeus acknowledged the need for more staff to provide services previously unavailable, such as broader career placement, counselling and psychiatric care. But he doesn’t think that’s the reason for the growth of what he describes as a self-serving and irresponsible bureaucracy.

“The experience of being the head of the mathematics department from 2017 to 2020 made me a little bit radical. That was when I saw how secretive and authoritarian the Colombian government was. How they never shared relevant information with teachers, students or the public. This incident is serious Damages the credibility of the government. It saddens me, but it’s also important to be open about these issues,” he said.

Thaddes said he was initially reluctant to accuse the university of deliberately manipulating the ranking system.

“When I first wrote the article, I expressed greater agnosticism about this,” he said.
But he said the university’s response, including its failure to be transparent about how false data was reported, led him to believe Columbia was deliberately deceiving the system.

“Furthermore, the university did not take any action to commission an external investigation, a fair investigation by a third party such as a law firm, which was standard practice when a ranking scandal broke out. If I had seen such a move at the university, I would have been more inclined to Consider these mistakes to be honest and unintentional,” he said.

In response to comment, Columbia said it had nothing to add to the statement it had already made.

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