Weisbrod and Asche on Gaming the Rankings

by Harry on June 10, 2009

Burton Weisbrod and Evelyn Asche have an entirely sensible oped in yesterday’s IHE on the fuss about Clemson University’s shocking attempts to game the US News and World Report rankings:

Watt, according to reports, literally drew gasps from her audience when she revealed that when Clemson administrators fill out U.S. News reputational rankings survey, they rate other universities lower than Clemson across the board. Why not? Reputation accounts for fully 25 percent of a school’s ranking score. Watt’s statement that she was confident that other colleges do the same is perfectly plausible.

Inside Higher Ed reported Monday that the University of Southern California inflated the number of National Academy of Engineering members on its full-time, tenure-track faculty. Because the number of NAE faculty is a criterion for U.S. News rankings, USC has good reason to include NAE faculty who are not full-time or tenure-track.

If we step back from higher education, we will see the same dynamic of gaming a performance measurement system in many other spheres. Hospitals receive “report cards” that measure their performance in many areas, including their mortality rates. A little thought reveals the easiest way to improve the mortality rate is to keep terminally ill patients from being admitted to the hospital in the first place or discharge them prior to death. In fact these events do occur. Nonprofit hospitals receive large tax exemptions but are expected to provide charity care to indigent patients in return. Their substantial tax benefits are currently being scrutinized in the courts and in Congress, so hospitals are certainly scrambling to alter their accounting procedures to increase their charity care levels

Academics based in the UK can correct me, but it seemed to me when I was there that both the RAE process and the system of for evaluation the quality of quality control of teaching were designed to be gamed; US News and World Report has to be aware of the many ways that Universities and some of their component parts (those I’m especially aware of are Business and Law Schools), game their rankings: a narrative account of the ways they suspect the rankings are being gamed might go some way to discouraging the most egregious and visible tricks. (I don’t really see how to eliminate the incentive artificially to undermine one’s close rivals when ranking them).

There are few philosophical issues or policy questions that are not also M.O.D.O.K jokes (as this round-up reminds me). For example, the gender issue raised, but hardly laid to rest, by my philosophy: mind and manners post is just the classic M.O.D.A.M. (Mental Organism Designed Only For Aggression) question. (What do we think an academic philosophy education is good for?) [click to continue…]

Suicidally strong IP?

by John Quiggin on June 10, 2009

The strong showing in the EU elections by Sweden’s Pirate Party is the outcome of yet another Pyhrric victory for the strong IP movement, which succeeded, a couple of months ago in securing prison sentences for the Swedish operators of filesharing site Pirate Bay. This galvanised about 7 per cent of Swedish voters into supporting the Pirate Party, which reflects the typical feelings of Internet users: hostile to intrusive and aggressive IP, concerned about privacy for individuals and households, in favour of transparency for corporations and governments. These feelings are, of course, diametrically opposed to those of the elite groups that have historically driven policy on these issues. In the light of this public reaction, and the absence of any corresponding electoral support for the IP lobby, governments everywhere will think twice before endorsing criminal prosecution of IP violators.

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