College Fights to Get Off Web Site’s ‘Most Dangerous’ List

One college wants off of a Web site ranking the most dangerous colleges in the country, although representatives for the site say they have no plans to remove it.

Hobart and William Smith Colleges, in Geneva, N.Y., is ranked 44th on the list of 100 most dangerous American colleges at American School Search. The institution sent the Web site a letter demanding that it be removed and filed for a subpoena in New York State Supreme Court to get the identity of the site’s owner.

Robert Flowers, the college’s vice president for student affairs, said in an e-mail message to The Chronicle that they’ve obtained that subpoena and “if we are unsuccessful in achieving a resolution through conversation with the owner(s), we will move to refile the complaint in the appropriate jurisdiction.”

American School Search posts a breakdown of crimes that occurred on institutions’ campuses in recent years, as well as Crime Chance, the Web site’s estimate of the risk a student runs for experiencing that crime based on current enrollment, historical crime data, and “current crime trend.”

The Web site calls Hobart and William Smith “a very dangerous place to be enrolled at” and gives the institution an “F” for safety. It says “from our perception of the data, this campus experiences serious problems with forcible-sex offenses, in addition, there are certain problems with burglaries, arsons, and aggravated assaults.”

Mr. Flowers said the crime statistics on the site for his institution are accurate, but facts are “being manipulated in a manner that disadvantages small institutions.” He also said that the site does not reveal its methodology, unlike safety rankings such as those produced by Reader’s Digest in the wake of the Northern Illinois University school shooting in 2008.

“We are concerned that sites like this one that promulgate inaccurate perceptions of campus safety may result in a breakdown of the important process of sharing publically accurate information,” Mr. Flowers said via e-mail in response to questions from The Chronicle. Those responses were reviewed by the university’s legal counsel.

A representative for Amercian School Search, who refused to give a name, wrote via e-mail that the Web site works with institutions to clarify information and let colleges post their viewpoints; on the Hobart and William Smith page is a short response from the institution.

The representative argued that the analysis by American School Search does not treat small colleges unfairly. “To the contrary,” the representative wrote, “small institutions have a negligibly small advantage that comes from the way we normalize data.”

“We will keep working with HWS, and we will keep our safety report for HWS on the site,” the e-mail message reads. “If we removed HWS report simply because someone doesn’t like it, that would be unfair to other colleges, and this would undermine our mission of being an unbiased college review site.”

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