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Colleges padding their application stats? I'm shocked. Shocked, I say.
Old 12-16-2011, 10:26 PM   #1
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Colleges padding their application stats? I'm shocked. Shocked, I say.

Almost every U.S. Naval Academy alum has heard of Bruce Fleming. For everyone else, he wrote a book: He's also a popular guy with the press: The Military

By day he's a tenured professor teaching English to midshipmen. But outside the classroom he's a fearless crusader for academic standards. He feels that USNA has "dumbed down" their admissions guidelines and may even have let "other" criteria creep into what should be an objective search for the highest quality. I can't tell what angers him more-- sports stars or candidates with low scores.

The problem is that service academies use an elusive standard called the "whole person multiple". USNA already has one of the country's highest SAT standards (600 minimums) and diminishing returns kick in pretty quickly above that. Although it would be nice to have a brigade of Braniacs, what Navy's really seeking is leaders. Leaders don't necessarily have to be literate, let alone elite, but they have to be able to form teams and "win". I can't tell you who'll make a better watch officer or platoon leader just based on test scores. Bruce Fleming's logic flaw is correlating higher scores with better leaders.

After 20+ years of tenure, you'd think that he'd be tired of the self-imposed hostile working environment. He can't be fired without egregious misconduct, but he hasn't had a raise or any other USNA reward for years. I don't think he'll ever be asked to rejoin the admissions committee, and chairing the English department is probably not in the cards either. The life of a professional gadfly must be a lonely one, but he seems to thrive on conflict. I'd yearn for a life beyond work, or at least a personal life, but he just keeps pounding away at his one-note piano keyboard.

However I would think that he's a known quantity who responds quite predictably to certain stimuli. If I was a large bureaucratic public institution, then I would feel that it's worth my time to avoid provoking him. I can't blame Bruce Fleming for being what he is, but I can hold USNA at fault for doing dumb things to attract his attention.

The latest example is this Military Times article:
Professsor says academy overstates applicants - Military News | News From Afghanistan, Iraq And Around The World - Military Times
An academy admissions official Dec. 5 used this standard to boast that the school had 18,651 applicants so far this year, saying it put the school on track for a record year for the Class of 2016.

The academy’s number of completed applications is much lower. For example, the Class of 2015, which began training during the summer, had 5,720 completed applications; the academy cited its applicant number as 19,145 — more than three times the number of completed applications.

Using the higher numbers puts the academy at odds with other schools, which typically use only completed applications to show their acceptance rate. It’s not enough, a spokesman from another college maintained, to merely start an application.

An official with U.S. News & World Report, which ranks colleges annually, said it’s “very atypical” for schools to use such a benchmark.
Fleming actually filed a whistle-blower suit over this issue, including a FOIA request for the applications data which he supplied to Military Times.

It'll be interesting to see how the service academies handle this, and how the rankings change. It's a very small part of the ranking's calculation, but they apparently decided to run full speed into a brick wall to continue the policy. I may not agree with Fleming, let alone support him, but in this case he seems to be doing the right thing to an institution that desperately needs to be reminded how to do the right thing.


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Old 12-16-2011, 10:59 PM   #2
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Sorry for your troubles. Our troubles, really, as we all have a big stake in the success of the service academies.
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