Foul called on UMKC in rankings contest

07/28/2014 6:16 PM

07/28/2014 6:16 PM

The University of Missouri-Kansas City can claim genuine progress over the last decade, as it continues to transform from a commuter campus to a vibrant university.

That reality makes it all the more disappointing to see UMKC succumb to the corrosive rankings frenzy that has gripped academia.

A Kansas City Star report published over the weekend found that the university has been advertising questionable rankings to burnish the reputation of the Henry W. Bloch School of Management, its business school. The rankings may have deceived students and parents and appear to have played a role in the receipt of a major financial gift.

Among the problems:

The authors of a rankings study published by the Journal of Product Innovation Management were visiting scholars at UMKC at the time they wrote the paper. Their year-long visit had been arranged by the then-dean of the Bloch School and one of its notable professors, Michael Song.

Their paper ranked the Bloch School as No. 1 in the world in innovation management research. It also extended Song’s rating as the No. 1 researcher in the field. The research parameters appear to have been designed to benefit Song and UMKC.

When submitting data to the well-known Princeton Review, Bloch school officials claimed 100 percent of graduate entrepreneurship students had launched a business. They didn’t disclose that their response only counted students in a one-year certificate program, for which students were required to start a business.

UMKC has used the rankings to recruit students to its business school. And a favorable bounce in the Princeton Review’s ranking played a role in the school receiving a $32 million gift from its namesake, Henry W. Bloch.

The university is right to strive for recognition in its signature programs. But the questionable relationships and methodology used to boost rankings call both the quality and integrity of the Bloch School into question.

Unfortunately, the university’s official response is to defend the rankings and cast aspersions on its critics, especially a Bloch School professor who persistently questioned the process.

That’s precisely the wrong approach. Universities should be teaching ethics in their business schools, not sidestepping them to game the rankings. UMKC should begin an honest review of its participation in ranking reports and insist on following the highest standards.

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