Last spring, there was significant handwringing about the compilation, release, and amateur analysis of faculty productivity data from the state's leading public universities. But sentiments may be shifting: More recently, institutions have made moves to encourage public scrutiny of institutional data.
This week, Texas A&M University is making significant amounts of data easily available to the public on a new "accountability" website. Armchair investigators can use it to generate charts and look into topics such as student retention and graduation rates, graduate student stipends, research expenditures and more.
In December 2011, the University of Texas System also released an online dashboard of easily searchable data from all of its institutions. The release had been forecast as part of a new framework for the system's future laid out by UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa and unanimously approved by the board of regents at its August 2011 meeting. "I believe the dashboard will serve as a national model for transparency in higher education," Cigarroa said at the time.
A&M's new website is similar to the UT System's, but with a narrow focus on a single institution. A&M President R. Bowen Loftin said in a statement, "At Texas A&M we want to do everything in our power to ensure the public trust in all we do. We know we have a significant impact on Texas and the country through our teaching, groundbreaking research and the extension of knowledge to the public at large through service, partnership and outreach, but we want to have an equal impact in terms of accountability and transparency.”
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Most of the data posted on the new site was already publicly available for those who knew how to navigate the state's higher education data systems, but A&M officials say this is a major step forward in accessibility.
Karan Watson, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs, said she anticipates that the site will benefit more than just the concerned public. "Aside from the impact we can make in being open and transparent to all stakeholders, this real-time data helps department heads, deans and university administration look at trends and, when needed, make adjustments," she said.
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