Questions raised on email regarding “top students”

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Cherry picking makes for real faulty data, folks. Lee Lim

Administration promotes the Maclean’s University Ranking survey (to some)

Tis the season once again for the Maclean’s University Ranking survey, and campuses across the nation are ramping up to motivate students to fill out the annual ranking. Students of all Canadian universities who reside in Canada and are over the age of 18 are eligible in a draw by Maclean’s for a $500 VISA gift card if they complete the survey, and results will be used by administration and competition alike to decide where the university’s efforts will be put going forward. Some universities, like Brock University, have added additional incentives, offering draws with bookstore gift cards and Apple Airpods to students who fill out this national ranking survey. 

The University of Regina has historically scored quite low on this survey where we’re ranked as a comprehensive school due to our research activity alongside a breadth of undergraduate and graduate study programs. Among 15 universities in this category, we were ranked fifteenth for the second year in a row last year, with some of our lowest ranked subcategories being student awards, faculty awards, and student satisfaction. 

Among the student satisfaction category there are multiple subcategories. While we ranked third in promoting Indigenous visibility and fifth in residence living, on all other measures we placed eleventh of 15 at most. Our student to faculty ratio rests at 23.8 which places fourth among the 15 schools listed, but we rank eighth at best of 15 in other areas. In the reputation survey which Maclean’s compiles from university faculty, senior administration, and people in business across the nation, the university ranked twenty-seventh out of 49 possible places. 

An email went out to some students addressed by Jeff Keshen, university President and Vice-Chancellor, on July 25, 2022, encouraging students to fill out the University Ranking survey. This email was specifically addressed to “top students” at the university and stated that “Maclean’s magazine is currently in the process of administering its Annual Student Survey, and because you have excelled and [SIC] while attending university, you are precisely the sort of student whose feedback they would like to receive.” Dafna Izenberg, managing editor of special projects at Maclean’s, has confirmed that Maclean’s seeks responses from all students registered at Canadian universities, not just those ranked at the top. 

A Psychology student from the university who received this email commented that “It was just such a crazy situation, like as soon as I got the email I messaged my friends to be like, ‘Can you believe this? Like this is so weird, I don’t know why I’ve received this email.’” They said that “Immediately I was like, ‘This is such an interesting tone that’s being taken here, I’m really being buttered up to take this survey.’ Which is interesting, you know. I get emails to do lots of surveys from the university and often it’s just like ‘Hello, you’ve been selected, please do this at your convenience.’ But it really felt like there was a lot more, I don’t know, lead-up to doing the survey.”  

In an interview, Keshen stated that his intent was for the email to go out to all students at the university, not just the top students. “If it was sent only to top students,” he claimed, “that’s something that I would correct. I think it needs to be sent to all students. So, for your readers, I would say that my commitment would be that it would be sent to all students and that my pledge to you is that going forward it wouldn’t be sent to just those students that are identified as such. My intent was to send it to all students and I’ll make sure that that happens in the future.” 

Keshen was unable to confirm whether the email was truly sent to all students or just top students, and the Carillon has confirmation it was addressed to top students but not that it was solely sent to that group. “In terms of sampling in research,” noted the Psychology student recipient, “you would want a sample that’s completely representative of the university students that go here, not just the ‘top students.’ That’s definitely creating a bias in responses which is not an honourable research practice all considering, especially since I’m sure the university prides itself on its research – the research that comes out of here – so I don’t know why we would be trying to create bias in other people’s research. I really was not impressed by that.”  Keshen ended his comments by saying the survey will be “sent out to all students, and if it wasn’t sent out to all students then I would suggest my apology to those students who didn’t receive it. I would ask our students to be engaged, to be critical, to be committed, to have a great year, but I would say that their observations and their input will always be appreciated, especially if it’s given in the spirit of trying to make us a better place. That’s what we want.“ The survey can be found online and is open until 11:59 pm on Friday, September 9, 2022.

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