Thursday, September 27, 2007

Best American Universities for African Americans

The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education has published a ranking of 26 competitive American universities according to the numbers and success of African American students and faculty.

The journal has a comment with which I strongly agree, although it does not apply to some international rankings:

Unlike other ranking efforts in the field of higher education, our statistics, without exception, are highly quantitative. This is in sharp contrast to highly impressionistic institutional rankings such as those compiled by U.S. News & World Report in which 25 percent or more of the total ranking score is derived from subjective surveys of university reputations as determined by presidents, provosts, and deans of admissions at other institutions.
Iam not sure about the next one though. I can think of many ways in which universities could game the rankings such as counting biracial and African , including white and coloured South Africans and North African students and faculty as Blacks or African Americans, fiddling about with the overall student and faculty numbers from which the percentages of Blacks are calculated or double counting of staff teaching in two departments.

All JBHE data is obtained from our own in-house surveys of the colleges and universities as well as from government sources. Each year JBHE surveys university and college admissions offices to obtain data on applicants, acceptances, first-year enrollments, and black student yield. On a regular basis we also survey deans of faculty at these universities for statistical information on their numbers and percentages of black faculty and black tenured faculty.

While one may disagree over what measuring factors are most important, the data we collect is broad-based, solid, quantifiable, and not subject to dispute.

Here are the top ten universities ranked according to JBHE:

1. Duke

2. Emory

3. Princeton

4. Washington (St Louis)

5. Vanderbilt

6. North Carolina at Chapel Hill

7. Georgetown

8. Harvard

9. Virginia

10. Brown

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The Uses of Ranking

Imperial College London has announced that the Principal of its Faculty of Medicine has been appointed to a joint position as Principal of the Faculty of Medicine and Chief Executive of the Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust.

The report notes that Imperial College "is ranked fourth in the world for biomedical research in the Times Higher Education Supplement world university rankings".

It does not note that, according to the THES's own data on citations per paper for medical research, the college is ranked 28th. Nor that according to the Shanghai Jiao Tong rankings it is ranked 25th for clinical medicine and pharmacy.

Nor that the survey that produced the fouth place ranking used a database provided by a publishing company with close ties to Imperial and that the data on research was collected by a company headed by a former faculty member.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Australian Comment on Rankings

A short article in the Sydney Morning Herald has some useful comments about university rankings:

Shanghai's Jiao Tong University and Britain's The Times Higher Education Supplementproduce the two most well-known global rankings.

These two rankings produce different results, which is not surprising since they use different measures. The Shanghai rankings assess research performance whereas the Times supplement looks at employer opinions and the number of international students (among others).

There is no doubt that rankings affect the behaviour of potential applicants. When a famous US university fell two places in the rankings, it had a 5 per cent fall in student applications.

Rankings also affect the behaviour of institutions. For example, if universities are ranked according to the number of first-class honours they award, they may decide to give more firsts just to climb up the rankings.

Recognising the futility of summarising a complex institution such as a university using a single number, some rankings, such as Canada's Macleans magazine, describe universities using a variety of criteria.

The Macleans approach seems closer to reality. Universities differ and students are all individuals. Some students may prefer a university with good sporting facilities and extensive offerings in the fine arts; others may be looking for night classes and low fees.

In each case the question that students should be trying to answer is not which university is the greatest but which university is best for them.

Double Standards Watch

Several newspapers, including the Observer, have published reports of a sensational discovery by Bernard Lamb, Reader in Genetics at Imperial College London. He has found out that British students are not very good at spelling and even make more mistakes than students from Singapore and Brunei, for whom English is a second language.

Some of the errors include 'sun' instead of 'son', 'sewn' instead of 'sown' and 'rouge' instead of 'rogue'.

Shocking, isn’t it? Especially the last one.

On my desk in front of me at this moment is Phonetics and Phonology: A Practical Course by Peter Roach, Reader in Phonetics at Reading University, published by Cambridge University Press. And guess what. It spells 'rouge' as 'rogue' (page 223).

Shocking isn’t it?

Incidentally, it would be unwise to assume nowadays that students from Singapore are not native speakers of English.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Don't Know Much about History

There is report in USA Today about a survey of historical knowledge among American undergraduates. Apparently they don't know much when they come and don't know much more when they leave. What is also interesting is the ranking of the various institutions. Here is the percentage of correct scores among seniors.

Harvard 69.56
Yale 65.85
private secular non-Ivy universities 64.10
non-Ivy universities 60.1
Cornell 56.95
Protestant universities 56.60
state flagship universities 54.40
Catholic universities 48.30
state non-flagship universities 47.40
Eastern Conn State 46.49
St Thomas University 32.5

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Grade My University

This is a new site. The idea is that students around the world evaluate their universities, which are then ranked. At the moment it seems largely a British affair but if it ever takes off it could become interesting. There are obvious issues about multiple voting and so on that will have to be dealt with.

Anyway here are the top five .

1. University of East Anglia

2. Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology

3. Leeds Metropolitan University

4. University of Kent

5. Oxford University

Monday, September 17, 2007

Academic Selection and Regression to the Mean

In earlier posts I referred to the apparent oddity of administrators, parents, teachers, and researchers campaigning against the use of standardized tests like the SAT, GRE or LSAT in selection for universities and employment. Such people almost certainly rose to high positions in academia and elsewhere largely or partly through their performance on such tests, which are essentially measures of mental ability. Why then should they deny to others, including perhaps their own children, the opportunities that they themselves have enjoyed?

Similarly, the campaign against selection for secondary education in Britain was led by academics and supported by broad sections of the educated middles class who had benefited disproportionately from meritocratic education. I can remember my surprise on learning that the first area in the United Kingdom to abolish selection and send all secondary school students, except those whose parents could afford private education, to comprehensive schools was not a socialist stronghold in South Wales or Tyneside but the solidly suburban middle class county of Hertfordshire. Today the one place in the United Kingdom where selective secondary education survives is the thoroughly proletarian province of Northern Ireland

Looking around the net recently I found a remarkable and widespread dislike for the standardized testing of intelligence in education. Some objections are not entirely unjustified but others seem to be dramatically off the mark. There are, for example, many criticisms of the American SAT aptitude tests but the one that stands out is that they are socially and economically biased towards those who can afford expensive coaching programmes. This was a reason given by the head of Sarah Lawrence College in New York, whose tuition fees are close to those of the Ivy League.

But nobody as far as I know has seriously suggested that we admit everybody to exactly the university or give him or her exactly the job that they want. Nor is anyone proposing to introduce admission or appointment by wholesale lottery. One way or another, in any conceivable world, there will be some sort of selection for secondary schooling and even more so for higher education. If not on the basis of measurable cognitive skills then it will be done some other way. This might be through tests of achievement in academic subjects, personality traits, interviews, recommendations of secondary school teachers and counsellors, personal essays or tests of political loyalty.

The problem – and for some it might not really be a problem at all – is that any feasible alternative to the SAT is ultimately far more dependent on parental ability to pay, or perhaps somebody’s ability to pay. So, it would seem strange that the opponents of the SAT should in effect be advocating a method or methods of selection that would seemingly be against the best interest of their children, who would surely have acquired the intelligence of their parents and would deny them the opportunity for success and prosperity enjoyed by those parents.

No doubt many academics are childless and many are unmarried. But surely there are enough who would have some concern for their children. The desire to provide for the future welfare of children is the most fundamental in human nature and history. Virtually every society goes through a stage of hereditary monarchy and even republics like North Korea and the USA show a strong inclination to presidential filialism. That American and European academics and other beneficiaries of selection should be so lacking in such a basic and widespread human impulse seems very odd. Why should they be immune to something so constant and universal?

The question becomes even more pointed if we consider that well educated liberal middle class parents in North America and Europe do in fact go to immense efforts to provide their children with the attributes that appear to be valued by prestigious schools and universities. Immense effort is expected to get children into good schools and universities, even good kindergartens, to transport them to resume – compliant volunteering and athletics, to provide a variety of tuition and counseling. We even see the middle class Marxists (probably post – or neo- by now) of the Labour Party gritting their teeth and showing up for Sunday services to get their children into a church school.

Why then are so many in the middle classes so hostile to standardized tests that would allow their children at little cost to have access to valuable educational and occupational opportunities while driving themselves to the edge of bankruptcy and exhaustion to provide their children with the skills and socialization needed to gain entrance to elite institutions and to succeed academically and socially.

There is, in fact, more to the story than this and that is something called regression to the mean.

Basically, this involves the simple and obvious principle that extremes are more unusual than mediocrity. There are fewer very tall people and very short people than people of medium height. There are fewer very intelligent and very unintelligent people than people of average intelligence and so for almost any human attribute you can think of.

Another simple and obvious principle is that if any trait is wholly or largely inherited genetically then parents who have that trait to an extreme will have it to a greater degree than their offspring who in turn will have it more than the general population. To illustrate, very tall people will have children who are taller than average but not as tall as their parents. Typically, Harvard graduates will occasionally have children who will get into Harvard but more will be only bright enough for Duke, Cornell or a middling liberal arts college.

Or, to go off at a bit of a tangent, musical, literary and athletic ability are significantly inherited. But rarely do supreme achievers pass all their abilities to their children. Zack Starr, Ziggy Marley, Julian Lennon, Nancy Sinatra, Martin Amis, Auberon Waugh, Marvin Frazier, and all those Bachs are better than average but certainly very inferior to their fathers.

Backing up a little, let’s go through these points. The SAT measures intelligence quite well. So does the GRE and LSAT. Intelligence is the single most important factor in academic and career success. Many of the people who control American higher education today and have dominant position in the corporate and government hierarchies do so in large part because standardized tests could identify and measure their intelligence.

Intelligence is overwhelmingly, perhaps even, excluding environmental trauma, almost entirely hereditary. But precisely because of this persons who are extremely intelligent will never be able to pass all of their advantage to their children.

I suspect that for many professors of education, university administrators and so on there must have been traumatic moments when they realised that their children were never going to be quite as clever as they were. Perhaps it was trouble with maths or science in science in high school or perhaps the results of a trial SAT. It would be very tempting to conclude that standardized tests were an inadequate basis for judging intelligence, that it could not be defined anyway, that there were different kinds of intelligence, that other qualities were required to succeed in life, that holistic assessment could find hidden reserves of ability.

Also no doubt, we would find such people investing large amounts of time and money in tuition classes, summer camp, courses in writing admission essays and so on. To meet the opaque and unstable demands of a holistic admissions process ultimately demands more time and money that swotting for a few tests.

It is likely that more and more colleges and universities will follow Sarah Lawrence College to drop the SAT and replace it with expensive holistic selection. The cognitive elite thus will to some extent succeed in passing on its social advantages to its offspring. There will be a price. The cognitive elite will become an elite of sensitivity, personality and political correctness.

The current war against academic selection and standardized testing and the drive for holistic and alternative admissions, school based assessment, course work in place of exams is then in part an attempt by a newly arrived elite to trade in its intellectual superiority for extreme and expensive socialization.

There is nothing unusual about this. Throughout history new elites have tried to ensure the prosperity of the offspring by creating status systems that will favour those who will benefit from elaborate training and socialization. A case in point would be the uncouth entrepreneurs of the industrial revolution who turned their children into expensively educated gentlemen and ladies.

I would like to propose a general law of social development. Any group that rises to power and affluence through a quality that is substantially hereditable will endeavor to change the social system to ensure that its children will succeed them despite the remorseless logic of regression to the mean.

There are no doubt other forces that contribute to the loathing for standardized tests, such as the need to compensate African-Americans for generations of discrimination. But the war on testing and for holistic selection is in large part a device for the perpetuation of class privilege. There is nothing progressive about it.

Update on University of Michigan

The University of Michigan business school is not in this years's Forbes rankings because it declined to participate in the survey. Forbes did not make a mistake.

Forbes MBA Survey: Why Is Ross Unranked?
You may have noticed that Ross is not included in this year's Forbes ranking of full-time MBA programs. There's a simple reason for that: We declined to participate in the survey.Unlike surveys managed by such publications as BusinessWeek, The Wall Street Journal, and The Financial Times, the Forbes survey is concerned almost exclusively with a financial calculation of return-on-investment. We are certainly aware of the financial commitment made by our students. We also recognize that ROI is a factor to consider when evaluating an MBA program. However, we don't believe that an ROI calculation, by itself, is the most meaningful way to measure the full value of an MBA program. A world-class education is more than an economic transaction. The excellence of our full-time MBA program manifests itself in many ways: the distinctiveness of our action-based learning programs; the quality of instruction; the breadth and depth of our research; the esteem in which top recruiters hold our graduates; and, of course, the talent and commitment of our students and alumni.

Fair enough. I'm still wondering about the Economist though.
Is it possible that somebody has made a mistake?

The recent Forbes ranking of business schools has the Broad School of Business at Michigan State University at number 19 in the US but does not mention the University of Michigan in the top 100.

The Economist has the Stephen M. Ross School at the University of Michigan in 9th place for the US but does not mention Michigan State University in the world's top 100.

Is it possible that somebody has got the two Michigan schools mixed up?

I notice that the Financial Times Global MBA rankings has University of Michigan in 19th place and Michigan State University in 38th. Could it be that both Forbes and the Economist have made a mistake?
Yet Another Business School Ranking

This one is from the Economist. The top 10 US schools are

1. Dartmouth
2. Stanford
3. Chicago
4. Northwestern
5. Harvard
6. New York University
7. University of Michigan
8. Berkeley
9. Columbia
10. Virginia

The top 5 outside the US are:

1. IESE (Spain)
2. IMD (Switzerland)
3. Cambridge
4. Henley
5. IE (Spain)

There are some noticeable differences between these and the Forbes rankings. Forbes puts the University of Pennsylvania in 5th place for the US but the Economist has it in 12th. The Marriott School of Business at Brigham Young University is 18th in the US in Forbes but does not appear in the Economist.

It is possible that this is because the Economist rankings measure a much broader range of criteria including, for example, the number of staff with Ph Ds and the number of foreign students.
Another Business School Ranking

Forbes magazine (print edition 3/9//07) has another ranking of business schools. The top ten US schools, meaning those providing the greatest financial benefit to their graduates, are:

1. Dartmouth
2. Stanford
3. Harvard
4. Virginia
5. Pennsylvania
6. Columbia
7. Chicago
8. Yale
9. Northwestern
10. Cornell

The top 5 outside the US are:

1. IESE (Spain)
2. London
3. Manchester
4. York (Canada)
5. Ipade (Mexico)

Warning: the ranking is based on a survey of alumni of MBA programmes. Surveys were sent to 18,500 alumni of 102 programmes and there was a response rate of 22%. This means that the ranking is based on about 4,070 replies or about 40 per school. It is unlikely that the response rate was constant across programmes so for smaller schools the number of responses may be quite low. This raises questions about the validity of the results.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Comment on Peter Sacks and the SAT

Last April Peter Sacks launched an attack on the US News and World Report college rankings. There is lot with which I would agree with him about, especially the role of the survey of senior administrators' opinions ("beauty contest") about their peers.

Where I think he is completely wrong is in his condemnation of the inclusion of the average SAT (aptitude tests) scores of students as a measure of university quality. He says that:

I'm not a statistician, but it hardly requires a degree in econometrics to determine that graduation rates, student-faculty ratios, acceptance rates, alumni giving rates, and all the factors in the U.S. News methodology are profoundly correlated to the institution's selectivity -- how many freshman the institution accepts for admission relative to the number who apply. And none of these factors is related to selectivity more than freshmen SAT scores. In the U.S. News worldview of college quality, it matters not a bit what students actually learn on campus, or how a college actually contributes to the intellectual, ethical and personal growth of students while on campus, or how that institution contributes to the public good. College quality in the U.S. News paradigm boils down to the supposed quality of freshmen the day they pass through the ivory gates -- long before they write a single college essay or solve a physics problem.

Sacks then goes on to praise a young woman, a daughter of affluent Harvard-educated parents who has renounced expensive tutoring for the SAT since she feels that with all her advantages she does not deserve any extra help.

Leaders of these institutions ought to take a lesson from one young Massachusetts woman named Esther Mobley. Attending a top-notch high school in an affluent suburb of Boston where parents buying high-priced SAT tutoring for their kids is like death and taxes, Mobley opted out, declining to take an SAT prep course. According to the New York Times, she did so on the simple principle that kids like her, growing up with Harvard-educated parents and every educational advantage, don't need or deserve such extra help.

The problem is that if the SAT is not used to admit students to elite institutions, then what will? Esther Mobley did not give up her advanced placement Latin, did not restrain herself from talking about the subjunctive in Catullus or Kierkegaard's existential choices, did not stop acting, did not resign as president of the church youth group or ask her parents to transfer her to a school with less competitive classmates and less motivated and qualified teachers. She eventually got into Smith College.

In the end, isn't this all more dependent on parental wealth, education and status than the qualities measured by the SAT. Surely an SAT-free admission policy will favour the children of the affluent and educated much more than current practices.
The Consequences of Ranking 3

The Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California has appointed a new Dean. What are his qualifications? What is he going to do?

Get the school a better place in the rankings. What else does the Dean of a medical School do?

Dr. Carmen A. Puliafito, the current chair of the University of Miami's Department of Ophthalmology, will replace Dr. Brian Henderson, whose three-year contract as interim dean of Keck expired this year.

University officials said they expect the new dean's leadership to help vault Keck into a higher ranking among medical schools.

"Clearly, what we aim for with Dr. Puliafito's leadership is to move up the Keck School of Medicine in the rankings," said Provost C.L. Max Nikias, who chaired the faculty search advisory committee that selected Puliafito. "We want it to be up there in the very top tier of medical schools in the country."

The Consequences of Ranking 2

Auburn University has appointed the CEO of a management development company to teach courses for professional engineers. This is supposed to push the university higher in the USN&WR rankings, although the university does not say exactly how this will happen.

The school said it expects Brewer's expertise to push it higher in national rankings, placing it among the country's elite engineering programs. The Auburn engineering program was ranked No. 40 in the nation among major universities, according to U.S. News and World Report.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Perfection Requires Imperfection

Around the world over the last few decades there has been a shift from selection for secondary and tertiary education by tests of cognitive ability or academic achievement to selection based on "holistic" methods of assessment.

American students in particular, but increasingly many others, are risking mental and physical breakdown as they compete in sports (more than one seems to be required now), volunteer, debate, find interesting part-time jobs, travel abroad, volunteer, suffer a trauma or enjoy an epiphany that has some sort of socio-cultural significance and spend hours agonising over producing an application essay that will attract the attention of an admission officer who has read thousands of such things over the years.

One of the reasons for minimising the role of standardised tests like the SAT and GRE in the admission process is that the coachability of such tests creates an unfair disadvantage for the upper and middle classes who can afford tutors, cramming courses and coaches.

An issue that does not seem to have been raised very much is the comparative cost of coaching for the SATs, for example, and preparing a profile that will impress an Ivy League admissions officer.

How much coaching will it take for someone of average intelligence to get a perfect score on the SAT or, if British, a bunch of grade As at A-level? How much would it cost to equip him or her with the background to impress an American admissions officer.

A natural experience was done with Prince Harry recently. The most expensive school in England couldn't get him any better than a B in art and a D in geography at A-levels. But, apart from his academic performance, he would have all the other requirements for university education, volunteering, leadership skills, foreign travel, sports and so. He could probably even, with guidance, produce a poignant essay about how his life had been diminished by a lack of cultural diversity.

To put it simply, you can, if you are wealthy and obsessed enough, buy perfection or something close to it in the non-academic criteria but you cannot buy anything more than a modest improvement in the SATs, GRE or A- levels (at least in traditional academic subjects).

So why is the obsession with holistic assessment and well-rounded students considered to be progressive?

Things reach the the point of absurdity when middle-class American students have become so indistinguishably perfect that they are advised to introduce a minor but detectable flaw into their university applications. A story posted on mywire recounts how:

"Steven Roy Goodman, an independent college counselor, tells clients to make a small mistake somewhere in their application — on purpose.
"Sometimes it's a typo," he says. "I don't want my students to sound like robots. It's pretty easy to fall into that trap of trying to do everything perfectly and there's no spark left."
What Goodman is going for is "authenticity" — an increasingly hot selling point in college admissions as a new year rolls around.
In an age when applicants all seem to have volunteered, played sports and traveled abroad, colleges are wary of slick packaging. They're drawn to high grades and test scores, of course, but also to humility and to students who really got something out of their experiences, not just those trying to impress colleges with their resume. "

And what happens when everybody has achieved perfection and everybody (or at least those who can afford the fees changed by the likes of Dr Goodman) has inserted that spark-revealing error? Two errors?

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Support for Norman Finkelstein

An essential element in maintaining academic standards is the freedom to research, teach and engage in public discussion. One case where there seems to have been an erosion of such freedoms involves Norman Finkelstein, until recently an assistant professor at DePaul University in Chicago.

This post is a bit late now that Finkelstein and DePaul have reached an agreement that he will resign while the university has issued a statement praising his performance as a teacher and a scholar.

If anyone is not aware, Finkelstein has written extensively on the historiography of the Holocaust, among other matters, presenting a highly controversial view. He believes, to simplify things very drastically, that the Holocaust has been used as an excuse to justify oppressive Israeli policies in Gaza and the West Bank..

Finkelstein was recently denied tenure at De Paul apparently on the grounds that he showed insufficient respect for the opinions of others. This may be true but it should not be an issue and Finkelstein should not have been denied tenure for such a reason.

I had better make it clear that there are many things with which I disagree with him about. He is also strident, rather too prone to self -pity and very rude to middle-age ladies (he calls Deborah Lipstadt , a Professor at Emory University, the Elsie the Cow Chair in Judeo-yenta Studies).

That being said universities ought not to give or withhold promotion or appointment on such grounds. There seem to have been no complaints about his teaching and his research does not, as far as I know, show any signs of plagiarism or data fabrication. Maybe he draws the wrong conclusions from the data but that should not be at issue.

It appears that one factor in the denial of tenure was Finkelstein's argument with Alan Dershowitz a professor at Harvard. There is no time to go into details here but if DePaul was swayed by pressure from Dershowitz this would be highly inappropriate.

Returning to the question of double standards that was raised by the Southern Illinois plagiarism case, we note that Dershowitz has shown no respect for the opinions of Finkelstein either but I have heard of no suggestion that his career might be jeopardised. Neither has Deoborah Lipstadt been threatened with sanctions for calling Finkelstein "the dirt you step in on the street".
Latest on the Southern Illinois Plagiarism Cases

I have already noted the various plagiarism controversies at Southern Illinois University . The case is perhaps most noticeable for the double standards applied to Chris Dussold, an instructor who copied a colleague's teaching philosophy statement, and the University president Glenn [Glendal on the dissertation] Poshard who has been accused of plagiarising his 1984 Ph D dissertation on the education of gifted children in Illinois.

Dussold was sacked but Poshard had asked the department that awarded the degree to review the dissertation and indicate any changes that needed to be made. The department, very much to its credit, has declined to do so.

"Under attack for allegedly plagiarizing parts of his 1984 thesis, Poshard last week asked the university's department of higher education and administration, which awarded his PhD, to review the work and recommend action. As president, Poshard now oversees that department.

"The department has concluded that a committee with broader academic representation would be more appropriate for this review," SIU spokesman Dave Gross said in a statement, noting that the decision leaves the review process unresolved."

I would like to suggest that Southern Illinois adopt the policy that I believe, with variations, is used in many universities for undergraduate writing. First case of plagiarism -- write the paper again on another topic. Second case, zero for the course. Third time out.

So Dussold should write his teaching philosophy statement again and Poshard can write another dissertation. It shouldn't take very long. At 111 pages including a lot of tables and, in the first quarter at least, a lot of white space it is not exactly The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.

Perhaps he could write about something like Promoting Academic Honesty in a Public University.

A Ranking Tax in Uganda

The obsession with university rankings is now spreading in Africa. Makerere University in Uganda is concerned about its low position in the rankings (evidently those produced by Webometrics since it does not have any sort of position in the others). It is therefore imposing a levy of 50-80,000 Ugandan shillings a year on students (not, it seems, on faculty or administrators) to improve ICT at the university and therefore boost Makerere's position in the rankings.

"MAKERERE University will charge an ICT fee for both private and government-sponsored students.

Each undergraduate will have to pay sh50,000 and post-graduates will pay sh80,000 per academic year.

The decision was taken in a meeting held last week, according to the university senior public relations officer, Gilbert Kadilo.

He said the money would be used to boost the university's Information and Communication Technology (ICT) programme.

"The university is moving towards internationalising its academic programmes and this requires investment in ICT," Kadilo explained yesterday.

He added that the policy was aimed at facilitating the publication of university research on the internet so as to improve the international ranking of the university."

Even if this works, one wonders whether it would be worth it. Wouldn't a fee to buy books and journals for the university library be a better idea?

Monday, September 03, 2007

Never Ending Plagiarism

The search for status has its costs. The rush to climb the rankings ladder has produced many distortions in university policies and practices throughout the world and may even be a significant contributor to the current plague of academic dishonesty.

There has been a spate of plagiarism accusations at Southern Illinois University (SIU). One involves Chris Dussold who apparently copied his two page teaching philosophy statement from a colleague and was sacked. Such statements are seen by many as a waste of time and are usually totally insincere. Committing plagiarism in producing such things is on about the same level as submitting an unoriginal letter of application or admissions essay. The Dussold case is still sub judice so all I can say is that he has my sympathy. He should, I suppose, have been told to go and write the statement again but dismissal seems far too draconian a step.

The President of the university, Glenn (why was it Glendal on his dissertation?) Poshard, has been accused of plagiarising his doctoral dissertation on the education of gifted children, which was submitted to SIU's Carbondale campus's Department of Educational Administration and Higher Education, from which he received his Ph D. According to the Chicago Sun-Times:

'He will ask the department -- now under his command as president of the SIU system -- to review the document "and to advise me on corrections necessary to make this dissertation consistent with the highest academic standards.

"I will make whatever changes are recommended by the department, and by doing so I hope to fulfill the highest expectations that you have of me as your president," the former congressman said.

The allegations first surfaced Thursday in the student newspaper, the Daily Egyptian, which said it found 30 sections of Poshard's paper that contained verbatim text from other sources that either wasn't placed in quotation marks or wasn't cited properly.

Poshard said at a news conference Friday it's possible he made some mistakes in the 111-page paper, but they were "unintentional." Nevertheless, "they need to be promptly acknowledged and remedied," he said.'

Note that the department has not been asked to consider whether Poshard should suffer the same fate as Dussold whose offense was surely much less.

There was another case of plagiarism at SIU, one which seems related to the current fashion for getting as high up the rankings as possible.. In 2001 SIU produced a plan called Southern at 150. The idea was for SIU to get into the top 75 public universities in the US (presumably as ranked by the US News and World Report) by its 150th anniversary. It seems that much of the plan was very similar to one called Vision 2020 published by Texas A and M University at College Station in the late 1990s as part of its drive to be a top ten university by 2020.

A university committee found that SIU's Chancellor, Walter Wendler, admitted "lifting" parts of the plan from the Texas A and M text. It seems that Wendler "sincerely believed he was acting ethically by lifting what he considered his intellectual property." The panel also stated that Wendler ought to have indicated that parts of SIU's propramme had been taken from Texas A and M's..

Something that nobody seems to have noticed is that the idea of calling a strategic plan "Vision 2020" was apparently not original to anyone in Texas. It has been used to describe long-term plans by the cities of Bakersfield and Hamilton and the governments of India and Trinidad among others. It seems to have been first used by the Malaysian prime minister, Dr Mahathir Mohamed, in February 1991 to refer to his country's aspirations to economic and social development.

I doubt that anyone could be disciplined for plagiarising two words but still an acknowledgement of Dr Mahathirs's prior use of the phase would have been polite.

Maybe everyone at Texas A and M will say that the idea of "Vision 2020" was completely original, perhaps occurring after a visit to the optician's, and that this is simply a coincidence. This is possible but in some ways more disturbing. Malaysia in the 1990s was one of the world's fastest growing economies and it says a lot about the parochialism of the army of Texan experts if none of them had ever come across a reference to Malaysia's strategic plans.

Incidentally, there is a reference to the local governments around Puget Sound off Washington State adopting a Vision 2020 in October 1990 but but it is not clear that this was published at the time and it certainly never got the attention of Dr Mahathir's statement.