Emerson, welcome to the jungle?

by Beacon Staff • September 30, 2009

As members of the press, we understand the responsibility and impact of our position-how the ideas we communicate can spread like wildfire, how errant facts or ethical missteps can tragically reverberate and how the smallest distortion can give readers the wrong idea about a story. At this paper, as with any, mistakes are made and diligently corrected when discovered. But a gross error occurred when the Web site The Daily Beast named Emerson College the most dangerous

college campus in America

last month. Emerson students shouldn't pay the Beast's foolish findings any attention: The site's methodology was irresponsible and inaccurate.

The list considered statistics from crime close to campus as well as the amount of crime per-capita. So hypothetically, neighboring

schools, one small and one large, with overlapping off-campus reporting areas, could have hugely different safety ratings.

This obvious flaw greatly discredits the Beast's findings.

Simply taking a per-capita rating from the results of their points-based rating system does not sufficiently address the drastically

different environments, local conditions and divergent institutional characters of the 25 allegedly most-unsafe colleges.

Nor does it give the Beast license to compare these schools "apples-to-apples," as it claims to in its explanation of the methodology.

Their formula, however well-intentioned, reveals how difficult

ranking colleges against one another can be. The Beast says that only colleges with 4,000 students or more were examined. Only two other schools of "the most dangerous 25" have fewer students than Emerson's 4,380: The University of Maryland-Eastern Shore, at 4,086, and California State University at Monterey Bay, with 4,080. Both of those schools stand in non-urban areas, with Monterey's inclusion perhaps due only to one outlying murder case, which local authorities later deemed a case of justified self defense, the Beast admits. Nevertheless, the Web site, while conceding this fact, said the murder still "strongly impacted" its ranking,

effectively acknowledging an anomaly while doing nothing to correct for it. That crime, the tragedy of which is not disputed, lays open the survey's methodology

to the potentially drastic impact of outliers.

And outliers abound: Where is even a mention of the tragedy

at Virginia Tech in April of 2007, squarely within the survey's

time frame, which resulted in the murder of 32 people on campus and the suicide of the student gunman who shot them in cold blood? Only Virginia Tech's size seemed to save it from inclusion on the Beast's list, where the practice of dividing

their rating by the number of total students irreparably skews what otherwise could have been a shockingly unsafe rating for the Blacksburg, Va. campus.

The Beast's exercise in collegiate

judgment is more experiment

than yardstick, the results of which are mostly reflective of their methods and selected data set, not of any intrinsic measurement

of safety.

Irresponsible reporting has consequences. From this foolish episode, Emerson admissions and student life stand to suffer the most. Some prospective students

may steer clear of Emerson

because of this ridiculous rating. Some current students and their families may grow paranoid, fearful for their loved ones' safety.

We invite the reporters and editors at The Daily Beast to come see for themselves the alleged "hot zone." We won't mind. Enjoy an evening show at The Cutler Majestic Theater. Eat pizza across the street. Perhaps

try actually chatting with the imperiled students for whom you fear. Or, if that's too much to ask, run a correction.

We do it all the time.