When he learned of the problem, Bucknell President John C. Bravman said, “it was like getting emotionally punched in the gut.”
Like Tulane, Bucknell said the episode traced to the actions of a former employee. Bravman said he spoke by telephone with that person recently but ended the conversation in frustration because he didn’t get to the bottom of the problem.
“I’m not satisfied that I know what happened, and I’m not going to make something up for you,” Bravman said in an interview, adding: “I’m an engineer. To me, accuracy and precision are both important. On that quantitative measure, this failed.”
U.S. News higher education analyst Robert Morse, who oversees the college rankings, wrote on a blog Monday that Bucknell’s misstep was not significant enough to affect its position, 32nd among national liberal arts colleges.
Bravman, like his peers at the other four schools, said new controls will be instituted to ensure the problem does not recur.
All five reported cases in the past year occurred at private institutions. William E. Kirwan, chancellor of the University System of Maryland, said that does not mean public universities are immune from data pitfalls. But Kirwan said state oversight and public records laws provide “some safeguard” for the reliability of the statistics. Public universities, he said, “are used to a level of scrutiny and accountability.”
Raymond A. Brown, dean of admission at the private Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, said there is a simple way for schools to ensure data accuracy: Hire an auditor. Brown said he has done that with TCU admission statistics for the past decade, a practice apparently unusual for colleges.
“It makes me able to sleep a little easier at night,” Brown said. “Kids and families need to be able to rely on the information we’re putting out. It is truly that simple. If [the information] we’re producing is garbage, that’s not helping anybody.”