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University of Oklahoma forfeits its ranking on the U.S. News list after acknowledging inflated data

The University of Oklahoma campus in Norman, Okla. (Brett Deering/Getty Images)
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The University of Oklahoma forfeited its ranking on influential U.S. News & World Report lists of best schools after informing the media company that the university had reported inflated data for many years.

The numbers — the average rate of alumni giving to the university — had not been reported correctly since 1999, according to U.S. News. The revelation led U.S. News to list the school as “unranked” because the inflated data had bumped Oklahoma higher in the rankings.

It was the latest challenge for a school immersed in turmoil in recent months.

After the departure of its longtime president, David L. Boren, the state flagship school faced a series of problems, including a significant financial shortfall announced by Boren’s successor. There have also been protests over racial issues and allegations of past misconduct by Boren.

“It has been a really tough year,” said Adran Gibbs, the student body president.

Earlier this month, James L. Gallogly announced plans to retire as president of the university after less than a year in the job.

A business executive who, with his wife, has been a major donor to the school, Gallogly quickly took steps to shore up the university’s finances. But he was criticized by some students, faculty and others this year for not taking stronger steps after a racist video circulated on social media showing a student wearing blackface. It was the second troubling video to surface in recent years; in 2015, a national outcry followed video of white students singing about lynching while on a bus for a fraternity event.

Students expelled from OU for leading racist chant

When he announced his intention to retire, Gallogly wrote in a statement that soon after taking the job, “it became obvious that the Norman campus had been operating at significant losses for the last couple of years, had grown its debt, and had limited cash reserves. We later discovered that gifts and alumni support statistics were significantly overstated in various filings (though not at our foundation).”

He said a “false narrative” had been created that changes at the university were “somehow intended to diminish the legacy of our past president.”

The chairman of the OU Board of Regents praised Gallogly’s tenure in a statement.

The university hired a law firm to investigate allegations of sexual harassment against Boren, the former president.

Clark O. Brewster, an attorney for Boren, said he believes people who feel they have been wronged should be given a fair hearing, but said, “I don’t think any accusation thus far has any credibility.” Brewster said one man who had made accusations had asked Boren for money.

Boren was well-liked by students, Gibbs said. “He’s really an Oklahoma legend. . . . People saw him as a walking piece of history” and credited him with helping the university advance. “Now, it’s just uneasy — a lot of people don’t know how to feel.”

A law firm is also investigating the falsified data.

The OU Daily, a student newspaper, reported in December that data had been inflated.

Robert Morse, chief data strategist at U.S. News, explained the discrepancy in an online statement. “For the 2019 Best Colleges rankings, the University of Oklahoma originally reported its two-year alumni giving rate at 14 percent,” but the school informed U.S. News it was just under 10 percent. He explained that the average alumni giving rate has a weight of 5 percent in the Best Colleges ranking methodology.

The university appeared on several ranked lists, including National Universities, Best Value Schools, Top Public Schools, Best Colleges for Veterans and A-plus Schools for B Students.

Last week, the university announced Joseph Harroz Jr., dean of the OU College of Law, would serve as interim president.

The university provided updated information immediately after discovering misreporting of donations to the ranking system, a university spokeswoman said Thursday, and is committed to accurately reflecting past and future data to maintain the trust of students and prospective students.

Harroz said in a written statement Thursday that university officials “intend to become an example of integrity in reporting and behavior,” and that they “continue to have pride in the top rankings of several of our programs.” He said the university has learned from this “and is working toward the goal of achieving future rankings for 2020 and beyond that reflect OU’s excellence and academic success.”

Many faculty members had hoped Harroz would be named president when Gallogly was chosen, said Joshua B. Nelson, chair of the faculty senate at OU. “The mood on campus is optimistic,” Nelson said, after people were trepidatious last year. “Now, they’re starting to look forward.”