The University of Missouri-Kansas City’s willingness to play loose and fast with college rankings data has backfired badly, as the Princeton Review has stripped programs affiliated with its business school from the top-25 ratings list for 2014.
In response, Chancellor Leo Morton on Monday acknowledged the university also submitted faulty data for 2011, 2012 and 2013, and asked the publication to remove its rankings for those years.
It is important to note that these actions affect only the graduate and undergraduate programs of the Regnier Institute of Entrepreneurship and Innovation in the Henry W. Bloch School of Management. The integrity of rankings information submitted by other UMKC programs has not been called into question.
But the decision presents a sharp rebuke to UMKC’s leadership. In their quest for recognition — and the donations and enrollment gains that come with it — officials enabled a disturbing culture to fester in the entrepreneurship program.
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Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon requested an investigation last year after The Star published articles describing exaggerations, misuse of data and other unethical practices to pump up ratings.
A report by PricewaterhouseCoopers found that employees had inflated the number of student clubs and mentoring opportunities. They also counted data from participants in a certificate program, although it was clear the Princeton Review’s questions related to full-time, degree-seeking students.
John Norton, the entrepreneurship program’s managing director at the time, told auditors he submitted data he knew was faulty “for fear of job security.”
The head of the department at the time was professor Michael Song, who also became controversial because of his involvement in a paper submitted to the Journal of Product Innovation Management, which ranked UMKC’s entrepreneurship program No. 1 in the world.
Morton noted that the Bloch School had put safeguards in place to ensure the integrity of future rankings submissions. But he continued to characterize the problem Monday as “two members of the Bloch School faculty” submitting “inflated statistics in ... three categories.”
This is not a trumped-up scandal. UMKC owes it to the community, its alumni and students who may have enrolled based on the rankings to fully acknowledge the problem. Both Song and Norton are still on the school’s faculty, a status that demands review.
UMKC isn’t the first university to chase rankings at the expense of its integrity, but it is a case study for why that is such a bad idea. Instead of being recognized for high-quality programs, UMKC has gained the distinction of becoming the first university ever to be expelled by the Princeton Review.