Faulty rankings released to criticism

By Kate Shepherd

A recently released study of faculty productivity that ranks the U of C 33rd out of 166 large universities has generated a barrage of criticism and accusations of poor accounting.

The ranking appears in the 2005 Faculty Scholarly Productivity Index, which was released last month by Academic Analytics, LLC, a private firm that sells benchmark data for institutions of higher education. The index, which was spun off of a State University of New York–Stony Brook research initiative, rates the productivity of schools based on the research, publications, awards, honors and grants accumulated by faculty members.

But major flaws have been found in the rankings’ methodology. According to the Free Press, an Ohio-based news service, the index finds that no U of C Sociology Department faculty member published a book between 2001 and 2005. However, a search on Amazon reveals that sociology professor Andrew Abbott wrote Methods of Discovery: Heuristics for the Social Sciences in 2004.

“These rankings are, I fear, nonsense,” said Danielle Allen, dean of the Humanities Division and professor in the Classics Department. “Nothing with data this flawed should get any attention.”

Allen said that even a cursory glance at the Classics Department homepage proves that the index’s information is wrong. For example, the department website lists 19 full faculty members, though the index says it has 16. The index also says that no Classics faculty member published a book between 2001 and 2005; however, department faculty published multiple books during that period, including Allen’s 2001 book, The World of Prometheus: The Politics of Punishing in Democratic Athens.

According to the index, Princeton University has 56 faculty members in its Classics Department, Allen said. Princeton’s Classics Department homepage, however, mentions 14 faculty members with tenure or on tenure-track.

“If they have been unable to identify books produced by the faculty it would seem to cast some doubt on the claim that it is a comprehensive accounting of faculty productivity,” said John Hansen, dean of the Social Sciences Division, in a phone interview.

Deputy Provost Martha Roth said she agreed that the rankings are severely flawed. Asked if the University had any plans to counteract the rankings, she said, “There are no plans to respond to something that is so obviously without merit.”