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Tufts disputes being named most dangerous US college

Posted by Matt Byrne  September 21, 2010 10:04 AM

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Tufts University is the most dangerous college in America, according to a recently released ranking prepared by the online news site The Daily Beast

But the university has contested the findings, saying the Beast's methodology is flawed and the "most dangerous" moniker paints an inaccurate portrait of campus life at the Medford-based institution. 
 
The ranking was derived from a formula developed by the Beast that draws on standardized, annual crime data reported to the federal government, according to the website.   

Kim Thurler, spokesperson for Tufts, said the university's large geographic reporting area artificially increases its crime rates. Besides the Medford campus, Tufts operates facilities in Grafton and in the Chinatown/Theater District area of downtown Boston.

The downtown campus, which includes the hospital and some graduate programs, have increased rates of street crime because of the highly urban nature of the surrounding neighborhoods, Thurler said.

"Different institutions have some latitude in how much information they provide," said Thurler. "And those institutions can be penalized in a ranking system that doesn't take that into account."

Thurler argued that the finding was skewed because Tufts opts to include extra statistics from local municipal police departments, which also can have varying reporting tactics. Upcoming statistics provided by the Boston Police Department will include a narrower geographic reporting area, Thurler said, a change in reporting that she said will more accurately describe the safety situation downtown and on the other campuses.

The Daily Beast is a recent entrant to the realm of national online media organizations.  It was founded a year ago by Tina Brown, former editor of Vanity Fair, and offers a mix of news commentary, original reporting, and articles linked from other websites. This is the second time the Beast has performed the ranking. 

To arrive at its results, Beast editors gave a weighted value to different types of crimes, with violent or sexual offenses garnering the most points, and totaled each school's offenses for three calender years, the last of which was 2009. 

The raw score was then balanced against the population of students so schools of differing sizes could be equally compared, according to an explanation of the site's methods that was published alongside the rankings.

Thurler disagreed with the Beast's methods and said the finding conflicts with the experience of students and staff on campus, saying that different colleges have differing levels of enforcement and reporting, leading to an apples-and-oranges comparison, she said.

About this time last year, the Beast performed the same safety ranking and placed another institution in Boston, Emerson College, at the top of its list. Emerson, which flanks Boston Common and Chinatown, sits blocks from the site that Tufts said was partially to blame for its elevated stats. 

Emerson subsequently changed its crime reporting methods to exclude some adjacent high-crime areas, and the Beast has since restricted the ranking to colleges with more than 6,000 students, a requirement that this year excluded Emerson and similarly sized schools.

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