The topic that keeps giving this late Spring… Inside Higher Ed today has this story about the USC Viterbi School of Engineering. It appears that the college sprouted professors with impressive achievements out of thin air and US News & World Report didn’t check the data the college submitted. I would bet that the stories that are surfacing, such as this one, of manipulation and plain old misreporting of data to the magazine, are just the tip of a huge, very smelly iceberg of corruption. I should be careful about reading only stuff that tends to confirm my prejudices, but this story does give me a Ha! feeling about my own long-bred suspicion of university administrators. Generally, as one comment in the linked story says, how come US News & World Report has acquired all this power? Why can’t we have more decently produced rankings, since there seems to be a huge demand for such rankings? Naturally, all rankings of such multi-dimensional services as higher education provision are highly suspect oversimplifications, but can’t we at least minimize the lying that goes on in the process of tabulating the data? What I know about mechanism design suggests that a ranking system that never gives a university official the incentive to lie is probably a utopian dream, quite impossible in practice. But surely we can do better than with the system that has been winning the PR war so far.