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Update and Action on Academic Analytics

Submitted by Staff on Mon, 10/03/2016 - 11:09

On October 3, 2016, President David M Hughes updated members on the union's mobilization against the flawed and inappropriate underlying assumptions in RU's use of the data-mining company, Academic Analytics.

Dear Members:

The Union has been working to make your Academic Analytics (AA) ratings available to you but the Administration has still not opened the files - files to which the University has access. To assist the many of you who have asked to see your ratings of "scholarly productivity," along with the data used by AA to calculate your rating, the Union will file a Common Law/ Open Public Records Act (OPRA) information request.

If you wish to inspect your AA records, please follow this link to the request form.  In the event that the Administration refuses this request, the Union intends to pursue the matter in court.  



The Union pursues legal action against the Administration only rarely and with much forethought and consideration. In this case, we believe that there is a lot at stake. As is well known, AA data are inaccurate and flawed, and the case of the Art History department, discussed below, demonstrates this fact at Rutgers. Over the past months, the AAUP-AFT gained additional information about the disturbing ways in which the Administration is using secret data from Academic Analytics.  In 2015, the Graduate School (New Brunswick) produced a chart ranking 72 PhD programs.  The internal ranking followed AA’s ranking of those programs within their disciplines on the basis of the “scholarly productivity” of relevant faculty.  



Over the summer, the Union made an OPRA request for the chart reflecting program rankings. Old Queens denied our request  on the grounds that the document belonged to Academic Analytics and that the document was “advisory, consultative, and deliberative,” as well as “part of the decision-making process.”  So we know that the Administration is using this chart for important, entirely opaque activities.



It is the position of the AAUP-AFT that faculty have a right to information about their own scholarly productivity ranking and the data used by Academic Analytics to compute that ranking.  What happened with the Art History Department underscores the importance of transparency with respect to our rankings.  



In 2014, administrators informed New Brunswick’s Department of Art History of its low ranking (#57 as it eventually appeared on the chart).  Faculty questioned the validity of the ranking and obtained their individual “scholarly productivity” scores.  (They did not have direct access to AA’s confidential methodology, also recently obtained by the Union).  By examining their own records these art historians deduced the gaps in AA’s journal data base.  Then they compiled a list of important Art History journals overlooked by AA.  (They did not delve into the much more complicated process of filling in the vast gaps among AA’s measures themselves, for instance, AA’s failure to count the curatorships art historians frequently do.)  Finally, they underwent an external review, whose findings went  to the Committee on Academic Planning and Review (CAPR).  That body viewed all the evidence and concluded that AA’s ranking of the Art History department was flat-out wrong.



Art History struggled for and achieved a good outcome because the faculty were able to pry loose secret information about their own “productivity” and reveal the serious flaws in the process used unfairly to rank their department.  The University’s reliance on potentially faulty data with regard to any individual’s academic work is disturbing.  The Administration’s reliance on the same flawed data to make decisions with regard to the distribution of resources throughout the University is an even graver threat.



Can the rest of us do what our Art History colleagues did?  Yes, we can begin to restore the multiplex model of scholarship that preceded corporate blueprints, such as, Academic Analytics.  But we need access to our AA files.  As you recall, the faculty of the School of Arts and Sciences (NB) as well as the Graduate School (NB) passed resolutions, with overwhelming support, demanding that Old Queens release these data to interested faculty.  The last resolution stipulated a deadline of September 1, 2016.  Old Queens has released nothing, meanwhile denying more than 70 requests for the files under the OPRA.



On the advice the Union’s attorneys, we will pursue a more forceful legal avenue: a Common Law Information Request – which encompasses a broader array of public records than OPRA – along with an OPRA request.  If necessary, the AAUP-AFT is prepared to file a lawsuit to obtain AA information to which faculty are legally entitled.  I have attached that request.  Please read it carefully.  If you wish to sign on – which I hope many of you will – fill out the form.  At this stage, I would suggest that only those of you with tenure join officially in the request.  



The Union pursues legal action against the Administration only rarely and with much forethought and consideration.  Your signing on as an individual will assist us in the goal of having your own AA data made accessible to you.   If we are successful, AA files will eventually be provided to all faculty.



It is a long road to restore and preserve the University as a place of knowledge, innovation, learning, and public criticism in the broadest sense.  I welcome your ideas and, above all, your involvement as the Union stands with you in support of transparency and your right to access information about your AA ranking.



In solidarity,


David M. Hughes
President, Rutgers AAUP-AFT
Professor, Anthropology (SAS-New Brunswick)

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