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Higher Ed in the News

Clemson staffer details pursuit to become Top 20 public research university

June 5, 2009

A Clemson University staffer has detailed how the institution attempted to increase its U.S. News & World Report ranking -- reviving a debate over the harmful influence of the magazine's annual college ratings.

Among the steps reportedly alleged by Catherine Watt, director of the Alliance for Research on Higher Education at Clemson's Strom Thurmond Institute:

  • Clemson manipulated class sizes
  • artificially boosted faculty salary data
  • gave rival schools low grades in the rankings' peer reputation survey, which counts for 25 percent of the score

Watt's comments came June 2 in Atlanta at a meeting of the Association for Institutional Research, before a stunned audience. Clemson, she said, "walked a fine line between illegal, unethical and really interesting."

Clemson issued a three-page response calling the reported statements "outrageous." The university denied that "all decisions at Clemson are driven by rankings" and denied reporting faculty salary data differently to U.S. News. The "insinuation of unethical behavior crosses the line," the statement said.

In an e-mail to The Associated Press on June 4, Watt wrote she had no "full comment" but criticized the published descriptions of her comments.

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Read more from USA Today, Inside Higher Ed, and the Chronicle of Higher Education.