Daily Texan's investigative stories on business school rankings ignored problem

Copyright 2004 The Battalion via U-Wire
August 9, 2004 Monday
By Sara Foley, The Battalion; SOURCE: Texas A&M U.

COLLEGE STATION, Texas: Despite accusations against Texas A&M's Lowry Mays Business School by The Daily Texan, the student newspaper at The University of Texas, it has been uncovered that not only are the allegations unfounded, but UT's McCombs Business School had bigger problems at home.

The battle between business school rankings began in April, when U.S. News and World Report issued its rankings for MBA programs based on the Class of 2003. Mays climbed 28 places from the previous year, which resulted in a tie for 23rd place with McCombs, which had dropped six spots.

According to U.S. News, the rankings are based on assessments by peers and recruiters, GMAT scores, average GPAs and data regarding how many graduates received jobs after graduation and what their salaries were. These statistics were printed in the April 12 edition of U.S. News.

UT ranked 49th out of the top 50 schools for post-graduate employment, with only 50.1 percent of graduates reporting employment at graduation and 67.3 percent three months afterward. Beginning with the June 16 article and continuing in a series of editorials and letters to the editor, The Daily Texan instigated an effort to insinuate that the statistics U.S. News printed were false and to discredit information reported by Mays Business School along the way.

On June 16, The Daily Texan ran a story attempting to investigate why A&M's rank had increased so dramatically. Had The Daily Texan stuck to this, quite a different story would have been printed that may have focused on the significant changes that Mays had implemented to improve its career positioning services and perhaps investigated the reasons behind UT's feeble numbers. Instead, the story focused on A&M business school administrators' refusal to turn over documents with the Class of 2003's names and employment placement data, implying that rising rankings combined with a lack of document turnover indicated lying on the part of A&M.

The article said A&M officials first refused to release the documents to The Daily Texan, then later told the reporter that the documents didn't exist. The miscommunication regarding which documents existed and which simply weren't released lies in the type of records that are kept at A&M versus the ones The Daily Texan requested. Post-graduate employment information is reported by the graduates, deposited in a database and verified, and then Mays administrators remove the personal identifiers from the database, said a Mays MBA administrator who asked not to be identified.

Mays administrators did have documents backing up the same numbers published in U.S. News, but the Mays administrator said the school refused the Daily Texan specific information she requested about the identities of graduates and their employers for the privacy of the graduates.

In an interview with The Battalion, Lomi Kriel, the writer who wrote the June 16 story, said she was "looking to call those people to see if those rankings hold true."

Employment information that students give administrators is voluntarily given in confidence, and is not released for their privacy said the Mays business administrator.

The Daily Texan also implied in the article that other schools cooperated with the reporter. Kriel said in an interview with The Battalion that she did not ask for this information from any other schools.

Kriel said she called "most of the schools in the top 10" and found that "they all said that they keep the records and that [they] would be available, but most of them had confirmed fact privacy, which is an understandable argument ... I didn't go through their open records department."

The fact that Kriel didn't request documents from other universities backing up the statistics or names of graduates for any other school besides A&M indicates that this wasn't responsible investigative reporting, but an effort to smear A&M. Other universities performed as well as A&M and rose in the rankings because of it, but were not asked for their data so reporters could contact their graduates and verify their employment.

"I really don't think it's fair to say that we have some kind of anti-A&M agenda. I think we are kind of above that here. I know we are above that here," said Daily Texan Editor in Chief Ben Heath.

In fact, although the article said an open records request at UT yielded results to back up their rankings, had The Daily Texan requested the same type of information it requested from A&M the result would have been the same. Daniel Garza, assistant dean MBA at McCombs, told The Battalion that UT does not give out students' personal information.

"We keep internal records, where the graduate has gone on to work. We can give out certain aspects of that data [to the public] but cannot release certain information, such as salary amounts or contact information," Garza said.

The Daily Texan has overlooked the real problem: McCombs' failure to effectively place its graduates in positions three months after graduation.

McCombs' failure is traceable to the understaffing of a much larger group of MBAs. McCombs had 795 students in 2003 but only one faculty member assigned to assist all of the MBA students in finding jobs. A&M had 172 students in 2003 and three faculty members committed to doing just that. UT MBAs are paying ,000 more than A&M students for tuition alone, receive less service and are not finding jobs as a result.

Why didn't The Daily Texan examine these statistics? Moreover, only 54 percent of McCombs MBAs reported their post-graduate employment information, compared with 97 percent of Mays MBAs. If there is any fault in the record keeping, it is at McCombs.

The Daily Texan has acted as though it has unfolded the investigative report of the century by releasing dramatic editorials saying, "We stand by our story," when in reality, the reporter asked for information that no MBA with any concern for his privacy would want to be public information and that UT doesn't release either.

The Daily Texan has generated a buzz with its reporting, but failed to recognize the real story. Instead of investigating A&M's numbers, The Daily Texan should have examined internal problems at McCombs.