Lies, Lies, and Damn Lies

When critics question the validity of the calculations U.S. News & World Report uses to rank colleges, one answer the editors of the magazine have given is to note that it publishes not only the total rank, but also data on how colleges perform in the various categories that go into the rankings. So a prospective student who cares more about faculty resources or competitiveness or any other factor can see how colleges do there, and judge accordingly.

But if the factor that would-be students and their families care about is a percentage of full-time faculty, you can’t count on the numbers about research universities to be correct. The two universities with the top scores in this category (both claiming 100 percent full-time faculty) have both acknowledged to Inside Higher Ed that they do not include adjunct faculty members in their calculations. U.S. News maintains that colleges do count adjuncts (or are told to) so that figure gives a true sense of the percentage of faculty members who are full time. But the two with 100 percent claims are not alone in boosting their numbers by leaving adjuncts out.

Calculation That Doesn’t Add UpScott Jaschik, September 13, 2009, Chronicle of Higher Education

Two myths dominate the public view of Universities in the U.S.: the myth of the liberal university and the myth of the powerful professor. Part of the problem is that extreme right wing ideas have become so normal-sounding. If a university teaches evolution, or does research into stem cells, it must be liberal. But universities are extremely conservative by nature, if not tradition-bound; as the cliche goes, battleships don’t change direction easily or quickly.

Another measure of their conservative nature is the way universities treat their employees. Slowly, quietly, step by step, institutions of higher education are pulling apart the profession of college professor, dismantling it into what they often call more “flexible” pieces. No job-security, no academic freedom of speech. That brings us to the myth of the powerful professor. In the fairy-tale view, these (always liberal) professors are free to teach what they want, if they teach at all, and cannot be fired.

The American Federation of Teachers and the Chronicle of Higher Education’s responses to the U.S. News and World Report’s college rankings begin to put the lie to that last story. In fact most college teachers are not tenured, much less tenure track. And because the professors are not well-organized, they have so far been unable to stop the ongoing dismantling of their profession. Of course, this is also what happened to auto-workers, and steel workers, and…

About Ray Watkins

I was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, at Our Lady of the Lake Hospital. I grew up in Houston, as a part of what we only half-jokingly call the Cajun Diaspora. At a certain point during the Regan administration, I had to leave, so I served in the Peace Corps, Philippines, from 1987-89. I didn't want to return to the United States just yet, so I moved to Paris, France, where I lived for three years or so. I then moved back to Austin, Texas, where I had received my Masters Degree, and (eventually) began a Ph.D., which I completed in 1999. I spent a year at Temple University and then accepted a position at Eastern Illinois University where I worked until May of 2006. I now work exclusively on line (although that may change) for Johns Hopkins, the Art Institute Online, and I can be reached most easily via email: raywatkins [that 'at' symbol]

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