SUNY Plattsburgh is a liberal arts college tucked inside the town of the same name in upstate New York. The Adirondack Mountains shadow the campus. Listen hard enough and the rippling tides of Lake Champlain can be heard in the distance.
SUNY Plattsburgh’s student body is comprised of roughly 6,000 students, 5,000 of them undergrads, most living on the 256-acre campus. Visit and within minutes it will feel almost fake — a fictional school in a CW teen drama or the backdrop to a dozen generic Shutterstock images depicting “college life.”
On Tuesday, a website called Find The Best ranked SUNY Plattsburgh “the most dangerous college campus” in America. The website pinpointed 24 other schools around the country, many just as bantam as Plattsburgh, and deemed them dangerous to students and staff.
We reported the findings and the article, obviously, exploded. We’ve run lists of the biggest party schools, best value schools and even the schools having the most sex. We felt it necessary to report the campuses that posed the biggest threat to students. Especially since a company took the time to do the research, pour over the data and formulate the list.
A few hours later, we realized Find The Best’s due diligence isn’t quite “the best.” We were emailed what equates to an “our bad” from Hillary Foss, communications lead at Find The Best.
“We’ve identified an error in the analysis of the data used in this report, which resulted in an incorrect ranking of dangerous colleges in the United States. We are currently working on an updated analysis, which will result in a new ranking and clarification of our methodology.
Here’s a brief explanation of what happened:
First, we included all reported crimes from 2005-2012, not just 2012.
Second, we counted the total number of unique types of crime at unique locations, rather than the raw number of incidences. For example, a school with one incident at each of five locations ended up receiving a more dangerous ranking than a school with 10 incidences at one location. This means that schools where crimes were committed at a wide variety of locations (ex: off-campus, on-campus, private property, etc.) and had a large number of crime types (ex: burglary, assault, etc.) were listed as the most dangerous, regardless of the total number of incidences.”
This email explanation is the equivalent of handing out hand-written apologies to firefighters, EMTs and customers after mistakenly yelling “FIRE!” in a crowded theater. Here’s the issue — it’s impossible to hand out notes to the entire internet. Especially to those schools too busy to read a note while doing damage control.
“Most people found it simply hard to believe,” explained Ken Knelly, Executive Director of Marketing and Communications at SUNY Plattsburgh, “which is very understandable as well. In our notes to the campus community yesterday we noted that by any measure, the idea that SUNY Plattsburgh is among the nation’s most dangerous campuses is absurd.”
Plattsburgh wasn’t the only school putting out fake fires sparked by the Find The Best study. Bradley University, ranked the fourth-most dangerous campus, went straight to local news to squash the rumors.
“We have worked with our local media to publicize the company’s retraction,” said Renee Charles, Executive Director of Public Relations at Bradley, in an email to my request for comment. “We are fortunate our local media have invited us to do in studio interviews (tv & radio) to discuss it and are helping us to get the right word out.”
Each school conducted their own damage control, but as Ms. Charles explained in her email, the embers could spread even after the fire is under control.
“The biggest issue, in my opinion, is with prospective students. College enrollment is a competitive environment and right now is when students are making up their minds as to where they are going to enroll. This is a vital time for enrollment management teams. Then you throw something like this in the mix that tarnishes a reputation and it can be disastrous.”
Students joined in the effort to dispel the myth that their campus posed a threat to their well-being. Here are a few of the emails we received in reaction to the original list.
“I attended Bradley University from 2008 – 2013. The fact that it was on the list is a joke. Bradley is a pretty small school settled in a somewhat shitty part of town but never once did I feel unsafe while I was there.”
“After clicking on the link to find out the Top 25 most dangerous college campuses I wasn’t really surprised with finding University of Redlands at 21. The news spread like wildfire on social media, and after a couple of hours it seemed like the whole school knew about the article. I guess that’s what happens when you only attend a school of around 3000 students. We report the peeping toms, or suspicious activities happening around campus. It’s not a bad thing! We try to keep our Bulldog family safe and close knit. As for my personal experience, I feel totally safe at Redlands. I live off campus and can walk to class and enjoyed my student experience while I lived on campus.”
Hours after the original list hit the internet, Find The Best released an updated list and named 25 new schools as the most dangerous. We refused to link to that list. The mutilation of the reputation of more than two dozen schools has already been done. We’re sure the 25 new schools, dangerous or harmless, are manning their public relations hoses and aiming square at a preventable blaze.
In the world of online publishing and 24-hour news cycles, we can’t promise everything we print is 100 percent verified fact, but we pledge that in the future we’ll check the source of our material before reporting any information that may harm the character of any institution.
As far as the people at Find The Best are concerned, perhaps to live up to their website name, they should aim to be find the best internally. Employees not so eager to yell fire just to be seen.