‘Most dangerous’ ranking draws ire
Published: Tuesday, September 21, 2010
Updated: Tuesday, September 21, 2010 09:09
A new listing last week ranked Tufts as the most dangerous campus in the nation, beating out 457 other institutions. University administrators have disputed the label, calling the ranking "extremely inaccurate" and "based on flawed methodology."
The Daily Beast on Sept. 14 published its second annual survey of the country's most dangerous schools, a listing based on data compiled by the U.S. Department of Education, FBI and Secret Service. The numbers are based on incidents reported to campus or local police, according to the news website.
The National Center for Education Statistics, the federal body that collects education data, groups Tufts' Medford/Somerville and Boston campuses as one entity even though the Medford/Somerville campus is located miles from Boston. The Daily Beast followed the center's delineation.
The rankings covered colleges with more than 6,000 enrolled students and residential facilities. The Daily Beast aggregated data from 2006 to 2008, the most recent years available.
The report said that 36 forcible rapes, 100 robberies, 119 aggravated assaults, 174 burglaries, 49 car thefts and one arson occurred at Tufts in those years.
As the rankings generated much local media coverage, university administrators decried what they called an incomprehensive and uneven methodology the website used to determine campus crime rates.
"In terms of the rankings, no, we certainly don't think that they actually represent the situation with regard to safety at Tufts. I don't know anyone who seriously believes that Tufts is the most dangerous campus in the country," Director of Public Relations Kim Thurler said.
The Department of Education's crime statistics are not uniform, Thurler said, because some institutions, like Tufts, include local police reports in their crime tallies, while others do not.
"Obviously, if an institution has not included those statistics, their numbers were quite a bit lower than those who have it included," Thurler said. "If you look at other institutions in the Boston area you'll see some do and some don't, and that's something that The Daily Beast rankings don't appear to take into account at all."
The Daily Beast's listing acknowledged that Tufts' Boston campus was responsible for its high ranking. The publication declined requests for further comment.
Executive Vice President Patricia Campbell said in an e-mail to the Tufts community on Thursday that The Daily Beast's methodology was "flawed" and that the report was "extremely inaccurate."
"We want to be aware of what's happening in the community around us — that's important, too — but it doesn't reflect our campuses," Campbell told the Daily yesterday. "It's a really important issue for us, and I think the ranking is unfortunate because it doesn't reflect the safety of our campus and it's misleading."
Tufts' 2009 crime statistics will exclude "extraneous geographical areas," resulting in lower numbers, since the Tufts University Police Department (TUPD) now has access to more precise information, Campbell said in her e-mail last week.
TUPD Sgt. Robert McCarthy agreed with Thurler that the inclusion of the Boston campus statistics unfairly affected the results of the report.
"Most of those crimes happened near the Boston campus, not here," McCarthy said, referring to the Medford/Somerville campus. "I don't think this is the most dangerous college campus in the country."
McCarthy believes that students will not feel less safe as a result of the rankings.
"Tufts has a significant investment in technology and also in people to try and keep members of the Tufts community as safe as possible," Thurler said, citing the fact that the university is one of only three in Massachusetts with an accredited campus police force.
"I think Tufts works very hard to try and employ appropriate safety and security measures," Thurler said.
Sophomore Mike Borys, a tour guide for the Office of Undergraduate Admissions, said he fielded a question last week regarding the rankings while leading a tour.
"A father of a prospective student made an off-handed remark, saying, ‘I heard that Tufts was rated one of the most dangerous college campuses in the nation by some newspaper,'" Borys said.
Borys said he explained the rankings' methodology and the effect of including the health sciences campus to his tour group. "I also told them that I personally have never felt unsafe on campus," he said.
"Once I explained everything to my group, they all seemed much more at ease," he said.
One student who was nearly robbed at gunpoint last year said he still feels safe at Tufts.
The student, a junior who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, called the rankings inaccurate. "I don't really consider it to be an accurate statement. I've never felt threatened except for that one time," he said.
"It seemed like a website that's trying to propagandize itself," the student added. "I feel there are many other schools around the country that I know of that are in much more economically depressed areas. … There has to be other schools around the country, much larger schools that are more dangerous places."
Harvard University ranked third in the rankings, behind Tufts and the second-place University of Maryland, Baltimore. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology placed 14th.
Last year, The Daily Beast called Emerson the most dangerous college in the country. Emerson officials at the time said the listing was misleading.
Campbell said the university is open to discussion about the rankings.
"We think our campuses are safe places, and it's really important to us to keep them that way," she said yesterday. "We're happy to talk to people about safety, and we're happy to take suggestions from people about ways to keep the campus safe."
Amelie Hecht contributed reporting to this article.