Response Concerning NRC Report
Numerous messages react to my notes on the NRC department survey, none putting the survey's flawed data set in any good light. Here's one important reaction from a department not listed.
Date: Fri, 14 May 93 08:41:21 CDT
From: "Dan Hooley" (CLSTUDDH @ MIZZOU1.missouri.edu)
To: jod @ ccat.sas.upenn.edu
Subject: NRC report
Your preliminary reflections on the NRC data are both very interesting and a little disturbing. Lots of reasons for the latter, I suppose, but with respect to local concerns here at Missouri, I have to tell you that the data the NRC is reporting for us are not correct. I'll briefly summarize, since I am not at all sure anything can be done about it now. Just the same, here goes: the U. of Missouri does indeed grant the PhD; in fact it has just completed an over-haul of the Classics graduate program, replacing its old Classics/Archeology degree with one entirely administered by the Classics dept. alone. It is designed with an eye to contemporary issues & interdisciplinary study with designated concentrations in the Oral Tradition, Ancient Religion, Classical Tradition, Archeology, and (Classical and non-Classical) Rhetoric. We have built these concentrations on a strong foundation of philological training, under the assumption that most of our graduates will be teaching in under-graduate programs of o‡ne sort or another. Our faculty consists of eight regular members (John Miles Foley, Eugene Lane, Ted Tarkow, Babarba Wallach, David Schenker, Victor Estevez, Charles Saylor, and me), with nine associated faculty in related fields (Wm. Biers, Kathleen Warner Slane, Marcus Rautman, Lawrence Okamura, Steve Bradford, Susan Langdon, William Bondeson, and others).
I can't explain the inconcinnity of data, but to note that no one here recalls being asked for information for the NRC survey -- can you tell me when it was supposed to have been gathered? Similarly, the APA survey apparently made the rounds sometime last year, but once again no one recalls seeing it cross his/her desk. It may well be that either or both survey documents were mis-addressed (to a former chair no longer here, or whatever). In any case, the situation does point up a problem that I hope you will take account of in your final compilation of rankings. I know for a fact that Indiana, Iowa, and some others noted in your memo still grant the PhD. So where is the erroneous information coming from? We midwesterners are just a little bit haunted by the possibility that the NRC surveyors would be naturally quite eager to have reports, full or otherwise, from the Ivies, without (only perhaps) being as careful about getting timely responses from, say, Missouri as they might be. It may on the other hand be that someone here just missed the crucial documents; in either case the consequences can be damaging particularly to those sorts of places most in need of absolutely accurate and timely reporting.
Which brings me to a last point: that the NRC report is of limited usefulness is pretty generally conceded -- though of some use and value it doubtless is. But one of the more dangerous applications of its data has nothing to do with a talented undergrad browsing through to pick out a graduate university. Recent experience here has shown it to be remarkably useful for budget-cutting administrators who look to such national, evaluative surveys for support in program elimination etc. We just this year had to argue past a mediocre NRC evaluation (the last, 1981?) in order to formalize and get support for the programmatic gains we've made. This is disturbing on a number of fronts. Reported data and the ranking of programs may be valuable in some general or objective sense, but, it does also reinforce a dangerous pattern: programs that are in little or no danger of retrenchment are valorized at the expense of smaller, vulnerable programs that, precisely, need some positive public exposure. All which is not to say that Missouri should be ranked with Penn. Only that it doesn't take a great brain to know that Penn or Harvard or Michigan are great places to study Classics in, and that such surveys don't help in this respect. They do, on the other hand, offer a useful tool to those who would be happy for the dollars it would save to see the study of Classics (and I mean not only grad Classics) largely inaccessible to the very great number of students who come to universities like this. I think the implications of that are very serious, not only for our profession, but for the ideas and books we profess.
Thanks for bearing with all this. Please let me know if there is the possibility of correcting the NRC data at this stage; the stakes are reasonably high.
Univ. of Missouri
In reply to Dan, I can offer the report I got this morning from a serving graduate dean, that the NRC data came from surveys sent to grad deans and probably for the most part filled out at that level; and the APA handbook depends on surveys sent to departments. Both assume voluntary compliance, which accounts both for the inconcinnity of data and some gaps -- not every questionnaire that lands in my mailbox gets assiduous attention, I know, and not even ones on crisp stationery from Washington, DC. If those surveying do not take responsibility for consistency and quality of response, they respond to the old law of computers, GIGO, which Myra Uhlfelder of Bryn Mawr once Latinized for a T-shirt as "qui sentinam imponit, exhauriet."