HOUGHTON - Michigan Technological University has the second-worst professors in the nation, according to findings from an education think-tank, but Tech administrators take exception to the rankings and the methodology behind them.
The Center for College Affordability and Productivity analyzed millions of teacher ratings from RateMyProfessors.com, a site which allows students to share their opinions about teachers on a five-point scale on helpfulness, clarity and easiness.
Michigan Tech is second-worst on the 2012 rankings after the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in New York and just ahead of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in Connecticut.
"We deal with this ranking every year, and every year the response is the same: It is basically worthless and does not reflect what our students report on teaching evaluations," Tech President Glenn Mroz said.
The average score for teaching results at Tech is 4.26 on a scale of 1 to 5 (from Fall 2012), based on teaching evaluations done for every professor in every class every semester. RateMyProfessors .com has a much smaller sample size, but it's another factor that makes the rankings particularly unreliable, according to Mroz.
"Of the 775 faculty members on the RateMyProfessor list, 400 don't work here anymore and many new faculty aren't included. Some of those 400 people are not here anymore because they weren't good teachers," said Mroz, who has informed CCAP of the issue, but has not received an answer from the organization. "In short, their data is not current - it's junk. So it's not surprising that the conclusions they draw are junk."
According to Tech Provost Max Seel, the university's 2012-13 figures for faculty numbers are 348 tenured/tenure-track and 56 non-tenure-track faculty, totaling 404.
"They refuse to clean up their data," Seel said.
Mroz noted that Tech's placement rate is 94.6 percent and starting salaries as reported in College Measures are ninth-highest in the nation among public four-year universities.
"That kind of student success simply does not happen unless the faculty in the classroom are high-quality teachers and mentors who are dedicated to what they do," he said.
The disproportionate weighting of "easiness" in determining the list of worst professors also skews the rankings, which Yahoo! Finance and CBS MoneyWatch acknowledged in an article they wrote about the rankings.
"It's notable that some of the universities that landed on the worst professor list are schools that specialize in science, technology and engineering, which are academically challenging," said the article, published Tuesday. "Students could give professors in these fields low scores on the easiness category, but these assessments are not used in a professor's overall quality score."
For example, Nos. 4-6 on the rankings are Milwaukee School of Engineering, New Jersey Institute of Technology and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
Methodology of the rankings and links to other university rankings can be found at centerforcollegeaffordability.org/rankings/2012-rankings.
Incidentally, Tech's rating on RMP's "professor quality" index (not weighted by the easiness factor) is more in line with top-tier institutions.
"There's the obvious issue of a biased sample on RateMyProfessors, the fact that they still have posted lots of data from profs that are no longer working at Tech, etcetera, but even just looking at RateMyProfessors for what it is ... the (3.61) value earns a 'good quality' or smiley face rating," said Mike Meyer, director of Tech's Center for Teaching and Learning.
The top school in the country, according to that ranking, is Stanford at 3.9.
Nearly 1,400 Tech undergraduate students responded to another professor quality assessment, the National Survey of Student Engagement survey, "which is more indicative of what our students really think," according to Tech Vice President for Student Affairs Les Cook.
Of those responding, 86 percent somewhat agree to strongly agree that faculty members are genuinely interesting in serving students, 80 percent that faculty members make an attempt to understand specific student needs, 92 percent that faculty members are friendly and 78 percent that faculty teach in a way that helps students learn. Overall, 85 percent indicated they are somewhat satisfied to very satisfied with the quality of academic courses within their major (74 percent outside the major).
"The authors of this (25 worst professors) poll should be ashamed of themselves for deliberately misleading the public," Mroz said. "They know that the database they are using isn't a representative sample of what students think about faculty."