Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Campus Crimes Survey Angers HBCU Officials

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Campus Crimes Survey Angers HBCU Officials

Article excerpt

Some decry listing as another example of `racial profiling'

ATLANTA -- When administrators at Morehouse College here learned that the editors at a crime news Web site had dubbed the campus potentially one of the most dangerous places in America for students to pursue a higher education, they were mortified.

After all, this 3,000-student school logged no murders, no sexual assaults and only six simple assaults and 17 robberies on its campus from 1996 to 1998, the most recent three-year period for which federal crime statistics are available.

But Morehouse came in at No. 5 in a recent ranking of colleges and universities with the highest crime risk, according to APBnews.com, an independent Web site staffed by veteran journalists that is dedicated exclusively to headline-grabbing crimes.

The listing prompted Elisher Ferrell, Morehouse's director of public relations, to fire off a letter to the Web site's editors complaining that the rankings are "incorrect and misleading. The probability for violent crime at Morehouse is not high."

Morehouse administrators aren't the only ones rankled by the ranking. Officials at several other historically Black colleges and universities also complain they don't belong on the ignoble list and have logged official complaints and rebuttals.

Several traditionally White colleges and universities that made the list also are upset. But HBCUs hold seven of the Top 10 slots in the most-dangerous ranking. And Black colleges dominate more than one-half of the spots in the Top 25.

That has led to sharp criticism not only from the colleges themselves but from national higher education experts who contend that the rankings are racist -- not to mention inflammatory, misleading and mistaken.

"This is not much more than racial profiling, as far as we can tell," says Terry Hartle, senior vice president for the American Council on Education. "It is enormously troubling that a disproportionate number of the colleges are historically Black."

Hartle also complains that the Web site's editors apparently failed to notice that the four historically Black colleges that lead the Top 5 most-dangerous list also all are clustered together in a single city -- Atlanta.

The colleges -- Morris Brown College, Spelman College, Clark Atlanta University and Morehouse College -- all are located in the same complex on the fringe of a marginal urban neighborhood in an effort to help restore its decline.

"I cannot imagine a solid methodology that would turn out four of the Top 5 schools in one city -- on any grounds," he says. "This survey was poorly conceived, poorly done and caused more harm than benefit."

The survey's authors, who had braced for a barrage of criticism even before posting the survey's results and accompanying articles about it -- defend their decision to publish the survey and its value.

But higher education experts say the controversy touches on more than just issues of race. It also raises nagging questions about everything from institutions' willingness to come clean about campus crime to the survey's methodology to the intrinsic value of such rankings to the public.

"This simply plays on people's fears of being victims of violent crime," Hartle complains. "It's just one more ranking that provides information of suspect validity and usefulness to the general public."

At the heart of the brouhaha is how APBnews.com conducted its specially commissioned study to arrive at the rankings. Indeed, Web site editors passed over the traditional source for campus crime: statistics reported annually to the FBI.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation recently released national campus crime statistics. But APBnews.com, in an article on its survey, complained that those figures "are more than a year old when they are released."

It contracted with a company called Crimes Against Persons Index Inc. …

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