In his commentary the other day on the National Research Council’s assessments of doctoral programs, Jason Thomas Parker warned, “By outsourcing evaluation of our doctoral programs to an external agency, we allow ourselves to play the double game of insulating ourselves from the criticisms they may raise by questioning their accuracy, while embracing the praise they bestow.”
One program that has embraced the NRC’s praise is Ohio State University’s School of Communication, whose doctoral program received some impressive numbers in the new report. In an announcement last week, the program trumpeted its faculty’s “absolute rank of #1 in research activity” and the program’s overall “#3 ranking in the field.”
All of that may be true, and it may be well earned. But take note: Ohio State’s School of Communication is (almost literally) the poster child for potential inaccuracies in the NRC report.
Back in June, The Chronicle published an article about scholars’ concerns that the NRC’s data might be growing stale. The surveys that underlie the report were conducted back in 2006, and most of the data concern the 2005-6 academic year. Quite a few departments have seen heavy faculty turnover in the last several years.
To illustrate that point, we described the huge expansion of Ohio State’s communications program since 2006-7. Scroll to the bottom of that article, and you’ll see a graphic that tells the tale. Of the 18 faculty members in the program in 2006-7, four have left. Meanwhile, 19 new faculty members have been hired. So the new NRC report is based on data that apply to fewer than half of the program’s present-day faculty members.
None of this is meant to disparage the Ohio State communications program. It may indeed be one of the best in the country, both in 2006 and today. Its high rankings and its ability to lure so many new faculty members are presumably signs that it is doing something right. And the department did not approach The Chronicle last spring to point out its faculty turnover (we discovered that on our own), so its self-congratulatory announcement isn’t guilty of the kind of hypocrisy that Jason Thomas Parker criticized.
But still, it’s hard not to wonder: If the department’s rankings hadn’t looked so good last week, would it have posted a note about how much its faculty had changed since 2006, thereby raising questions about the accuracy of the entire NRC report?