Academic Scandals: Columbiagate–College Caught Fluffing its Numbers

Columbia University Ranking Scandal raises questions over high value of Ivy League education

I am devastated by the latest new of my beloved alma mater, Columbia University.

I have not studied the issue, and what I report here is mostly based on CNN and other news sources.

Caught fluffing its numbers by one of its own professors, Columbia, one of America’s elite eight Ivy League undergraduate schools, admitted handing in homework cribbed to score higher on a placement test.

Full frontal: I have received the M.Phil and the Ph.D. degrees in the sociology of the arts (theater and film) from Columbia University.

I have been honored to be teaching there as Visiting Professor of Film and Sociology, in both the Sociology Department and the Film Division of the School of the Art, for at least half a dozen years over the past three decades.

Columbia University had been ranked the second best in the prestigious 2021 U.S. News & World Report annual ranking, thanks to the use of “outdated and incorrect methodologies.”

Columbia has since been bumped down to 18th as a result of the scandal.

The charges are serious, given the ongoing debate over the value of a college degree in the humanities or social sciences, and the fact that tuition has been among the largest drivers of national inflation.

Last month President Joe Biden ended a divisive debate over the hot-button political issue of student debt by ordering a portion of the over $1.6 trillion owed to the federal government to be canceled.

The admission is furthermore extremely embarrassing as academic honesty is considered the cornerstone of higher education.

Students found to have cheated on an exam or plagiarized sources without attribution are subject to all kinds of disciplinary action.

“Anything less than complete accuracy in the data that we report—regardless of the size or the reason—is inconsistent with the standards of excellence to which Columbia holds itself,” the university said in a statement.

Unlike other countries, in the U.S., the college that an individual attends is often more important to potential employers than what specific degree they received, the particular field of specialization, or the strength of their grade point average.

Ivy Leagues are considered the benchmark when it comes to teaching the country’s brightest young minds how best to analyze problems and arrive at a solution or present a logically compelling argument.

The university has said that a thorough assessment of its processes was so time-consuming that it could no longer meet the deadline for data submission for this year’s US News and World Report undergraduate rankings.

Michael Thaddeus is reportedly the Columbia mathematics professor who discovered the inconsistencies. “Does it make sense to conclude from this folly that Columbia is the 18th best American university, worse than Cornell but better than Berkeley?” he told Gothamist. “Of course not—that would be ridiculous. The only thing that makes sense is paying no attention to these bogus rankings at all.”

US News and World Report is not the only magazine that ranks schools and departments. Every year, the popular trade magazine, The Hollywood Reporter, presents its own ranking of the best film and theater departments in the world.

I am not sure how important those rankings are as motivational factors for applying to study in various schools.

All I can say is that the day I received a letter from Columbia that I had been admitted to the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (Sociology) was one of the happiest and most thrilling ones in my life.  Back then, the Department of Sociology was at its peak, with no less than six faculty members serving as past or present presidents of the American Sociological Association (ASA)., including Robert K. Merton, Paul Lazarsfeld, William C. Goode, and Peter Blau.

But, ultimately, two factors counted the most. First, the strength of Columbia in fields that were of special interest to me: Historical Sociology and Sociology of Science. Second, the location if Columbia in New York City (Upper West Side of Manhattan), a place that I wished to explore and experience first-hand, having seen numerous movies set and/or shot in New York.