by Ed Kazarian
As I remarked on Facebook yesterday, there is a lot of spectacular mendacity involved in the current crisis at Mount Saint Mary's Unviersity. As of yesterday, the University's provost has been forced to resign, and two faculty members have been summarily fired, one a tenured associate professor of philosophy and another an untenured professor of law. The justification for these firings, where available, made explicit reference to violating a "duty of loyalty," which adds to the already overwhelming impression that they come in retaliation for the exposure of the university president's plan to cull incoming students deemed likely to leave school without completing their first year before the school was required to report enrollment data to the federal government.* As a whole, the case is outrageous—and one hopes that these firings will be reversed, that the president and any board members who engineered them will be forced to resign, and that the principles of academic freedom, tenure, and the university's contractual obligations to its employees and its pedagogical obligations to its students that have been abrogated in the whole mess will be restored, reaffirmed, and strengthened. (Anyone who hasn't should consider signing the petition begun by John Schwenkler, located here.)
But while our attention is held by outrage over what is happening to these faculty and the cavalier attitude toward students reflected in the plan, we run the risk of overlooking the way that this case is an instance of a much more general problem. With the rise of various forms of quantitative assessment protocols (many of which, in practice, have been implemented ad hoc, and not always by folks with the training or expertise to produce reliable social science), we have also gotten a substantial increase in pressure to improve performance on such metrics, and thus to improve one's position on the rankings that are inevitably derived from them—rankings which have very real consequences for institutions, both in terms of their ability to recruit students (and their tuition) and in terms of other funding flows, like federal student aid money.