The Department of University Relations announced in a September 20 press release that Arkansas Tech University had been named the safest public university campus in Arkansas by BackgroundChecks.org.
A Facebook post which linked to that press release on a University Relations website garnered over 1,600 likes and over 800 shares. Tweets from university’s official Twitter account and University President Dr. Robin Bowen’s Twitter account that linked to the post got a combined 50 retweets and 85 likes.
However, an analysis of campus crime across public universities in Arkansas shows that the conclusion isn’t quite that simple. Data released by the universities in 2014 shows Arkansas Tech as a leader in several categories of crime, and campus officials aren’t willing to say definitively that this is the safest public university in Arkansas.
ANALYSIS OF DATA BY THE ARKA TECH
Certain crime statistics are required to be released yearly as part of the The Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act, a federal law that requires disclosure of specific crime data from college police departments.
The press release from University Relations said that BackgroundChecks.org used “recent Department of Education Reports” as part of their calculations. Data from the Clery Act is the only standardized reporting on crime that is sponsored by the federal Department of Education.
The data that BackgroundChecks.org would have presumably used came from the 2014 academic year (2015 data wasn’t available until this month).
That data shows Arkansas Tech as the leader in aggravated assaults with 11 total aggravated assaults reported. The universities with the second most aggravated assaults reported 3 apiece.
When looking at burglaries, the University of Arkansas (Fayetteville) had the most with 29, and Arkansas Tech University had the second most at 23 instances.
Arkansas Tech reported one rape in 2014. The University of Arkansas (Fayetteville) and Arkansas State University had the highest reported incidents of rape with 3 apiece.
The highest number of reported robberies happened at University of Arkansas at Little Rock with a total of two. Arkansas Tech, University of Arkansas, and the University of Central Arkansas reported 1 apiece.
The differences in student population on the campuses must be taken into account when looking at crime statistics, Sam Strasner, director of university relations, said when presented with a chart showing Arkansas Tech leading in several crime areas in 2014.
“There’s also a little bit of a per capita involved in this. You know, you looked at various other institutions that only have 3,800 or 3,600 students to an institution that has over, at that time, had over 12,000 students. There’s a per capita factor that comes into some of those.”
The University of Arkansas (Fayetteville) had the highest reported enrollment in 2014 at 26,237 students. The University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff had the lowest reported enrollment 2,513 students.
DATA ANALYSIS BY BACKGROUND CHECKS.ORG
Strasner said the university looked at the methodology that BackgroundChecks.org used to rank Tech before publishing their news release.
“Well, they have a good methodology, we’ve always checked into the methodology of these things. There’s a lot of these rankings that come out and they have various methodologies that they go through and they did publish on their website certain methodologies.”
The extent of the information on that ranking methodology that The Arka Tech staffers could find is the following quote from the backgroundchecks.org website:
“Campus crime stats, graduation rates, and student retention rates were taken from U.S. Department of Education annual reports. Campus crime rates are based on the number of crimes per 1,000 residents.”
In the list that backgroundchecks.org released, Arkansas Tech is ranked at the No. 4 safest university in Arkansas, but is the highest ranked public university on the list, with backgroundchecks.org saying the crime rate is 0 per 1000 residents.
Backgroundchecks.org also list Arkansas State University, No. 5 on the list, as having the same crime rate—0 per 1000 residents. The University of Arkansas, Southern Arkansas University, University of Arkansas at Little Rock, University of Central Arkansas, respectively ranked 7-10 on the safety list, also list that same crime rate: 0 per 1000 residents.
The website domain name, BackgroundChecks.org, is registered to a privacy-shielding service, meaning the purchaser of the domain does not list any contact information.
Basic domain registration information, such as organization purchasing the domain and contact information for the domain owner, is displayed by default unless such a service is purchased.
No contact information is readily listed on the website. University Relations did use the following quote from a BackgroundChecks.org staff member in their release:
“‘It’s a true testament to a great administration, strong leadership, student and community involvement”, said Jessica Pierce, a BackgroundChecks.org public safety analyst. “In a world full of bad news, it’s great to have something positive for students, administration, and faculty, and it’s something to be proud of.’”
That same stock quote appears in public relations pieces from at least six other universities across the United States who were also announcing their rankings in BackgroundChecks.org lists.
Sam Strasner, Director of University Relations, said he wrote the University Relations press release, but used quotes from a BackgroundChecks.org press release.
Efforts to contact Jessica Pierce Tuesday night were unsuccessful. Since no contact email address was listed, The Arka Tech sent emails to email addresses that might be Pierce’s, using standard email address formats (such as email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org). Those emails had not been returned as of 3 p.m. Wednesday.
COMMENTS BY UNIVERSITY OFFICIALS
Strasner said that Arkansas Tech is not claiming to be the safest university in Arkansas and is only relaying information from a third party with its news release citing the backgroundchecks.org ranking.
“There’s a lot of these rankings that come out and we will share them from time to time as an opportunity for people to be able, you know, gather that information and be able to judge for themselves. So it’s all just information.” Strasner said. “You know, we live in the information age and there’s a great deal of it out there and it’s up to the reader to be able to sort through all of it and assign whatever value to it they wish.”
“You know, there are many rankings for many different things and, you know, this is one source. And you know, if you read the news release that we put out carefully, at no point is Arkansas Tech University claiming that it is the safest public university in the state. It’s just citing this as a source,” Strasner said.
More important than this particular ranking, Strasner said, is the university’s commitment to safety.
“While we’re glad to receive recognition such as this and from other sources, really the most important thing is that we continue pressing forward and find new ways to make Arkansas Tech a safe place for our students, faculty, staff and guests.”