The latest development in the fallout from Professor Michael Thaddeus’s report criticizing Columbia’s self-reported data to U.S. News sees the University lose its highest ranking in the list’s history.

U.S. News & World Report announced Thursday that it has stripped Columbia of its No. 2 ranking in the 2022 Best National Universities list, citing the University’s failure “to respond to multiple U.S. News requests [to] substantiate certain data it previously submitted.”

This development comes just a week after Provost Mary C. Boyce’s statement announcing that Columbia “will refrain from submitting” data on its undergraduate schools to U.S. News for next year’s rankings, stating that the University needed more time to conduct a “thorough” review to ensure compliance with U.S. News methodologies.

The climb to the No. 2 spot on the list—Columbia’s highest-ever ranking—was celebrated by the University when it was announced last September. In a now-deleted post, Dean James Valentini wrote that receiving the second-best ranking was “gratifying” and a “confirmation of the success” of Columbia’s undergraduate programs. Columbia was tied with Harvard and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, behind only Princeton, which sat atop the rankings.

Professor of Mathematics Michael Thaddeus became curious as to what caused the University’s steady ascent from 18th place in the list’s 1988 debut to this new high-water mark. The result of this curiosity was an exhaustive investigative report published in February in which Professor Thaddeus found that “several of the key figures supporting Columbia’s high ranking are inaccurate, dubious, or highly misleading.” 

Following Professor Thaddeus’s report, U.S. News claimed it reached out to Columbia in March with a request that the University defend data it submitted on “its counts of instructional full-time and part-time faculty, count of full-time faculty with a terminal degree, student-faculty ratio, undergraduate class size data, and educational expenditures data for the 2022 Best Colleges rankings.” These were all data points scrutinized by Professor Thaddeus’ report.

“To date, Columbia has been unable to provide satisfactory responses to the information U.S. News requested,” the announcement reads. U.S. News then decided to remove the University from the rankings in several categories: 2022 National Universities, 2022 Best Value Schools, and 2022 Top Performers on Social Mobility.

However, Columbia will remain ranked in other categories due to differences in methodologies, according to U.S. News. They will maintain their position in the 2022 Undergraduate Teaching, 2022 Most Innovative Schools, 2022 Writing in the Disciplines, 2022 First-Year Experience, 2022 Undergraduate Engineering, and 2022 Undergraduate Computer Science lists, as these rankings “are based entirely on ratings from top officials at other universities and departments.” These rankings, according to U.S. News, do not incorporate data reported by Columbia University. Columbia’s graduate programs will also remain ranked.

U.S. News wrote in its announcement that it is “committed to providing quality information on institutions across the country and relies on schools to accurately report their data so prospective students and their families can make informed decisions throughout their college search.”

However, Professor Thaddeus argues that Columbia’s “misleading” data is only part of a broader, more systemic problem, saying that the annual ranking of colleges and universities is beyond rehabilitation.

“No one should try to reform or rehabilitate the U.S. News ranking: it is irredeemable,” he concluded, adding that “students are poorly served by rankings” and that “they create harmful incentives for universities.”

A spokesperson for the University reiterated that Columbia is conducting a review of its data collection and submission processes, as stated in Provost Mary C. Boyce’s June 30 announcement. 

“Columbia takes seriously the questions raised about our data submission,” the spokesperson told Bwog. “A thorough review cannot be rushed. While we are disappointed in U.S. News and World Report’s decision, we consider this a matter of integrity and will take no shortcuts in getting it right.”

Campus via Bwog Archives