Examines the Controversial Role of Third-Party Big Data in Higher Ed Decision-Making

FORT WORTH, Texas, April 29, 2021 /PRNewswire/ — What if a spreadsheet on an office computer 1,000 miles away from campus decided which professors at State U. got tenure or not?

Big Data increasingly drives the world. Now that companies and organizations can collect statistics about nearly everything and use computers to make sense of it, they’ve gone all-in. Organizations have always used numbers to meet mission goals, but now, numbers supplied by third-party Big Data companies may be deciding whose career in the organization advances and whose doesn’t.

In higher education, professors at one university are pushing back against this new intrusion—and Inflection, the opinion, editorial, and news analysis journal of, has details in an alarming report from guest contributor Mike Nietzel:

Academic Analytics, Big Data, and the Tenure Track

The players at ground zero in this controversy are the University of Missouri leadership, the university’s faculty, and higher education data analytics company Academic Analytics. A popular resource employed by college presidents, provosts, and other academic leaders, Academic Analytics helps these leaders determine research opportunities, collaborations, and resource allocation, while measuring advancement of the university’s research goals.

Now, rather than focusing outward, the analysis has turned inward. Academic Analytics will measure the scholarly impact of faculty members’ research products (grants, papers, journal articles, books, etc.) and will include that analysis as part of some promotion-and-tenure dossiers. The implications have alarmed faculty.

“At issue here are transparency, access, and accuracy,” says Dave Tomar, managing editor of Inflection. “It’s the classic confrontation between what an outsider thinks and what close compatriots do. Should Academic Analytics become the arbiter of who gets tenure in America’s universities and who doesn’t? Are we placing too much faith in machines and numbers at the expense of meaningful human assessment?”

For this insightful article, and its Inflection team welcome guest contributor Mike Nietzel. A senior contributor at Forbes, as well as president emeritus of Missouri State University, Nietzel is a graduate of Wheaton College in Illinois, and holds a Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign. His recent books include Degrees and Pedigrees: The Education of America’s Top Executives (2017) and Coming to Grips With Higher Education (2018).

Also examined in the article: the history of this dispute at University of Missouri and other schools, the value proposition of Academic Analytics for higher education personnel decisions, and the future of Big Data in academia. Nietzel brings his years of experience in university leadership to offer an insider analysis of this high-stakes controversy.

“Our love affair with Big Data should not threaten human relationships—especially when that data cannot contain the human measure of a person’s worth,” adds Tomar. “There are far too many intangibles that make a professor worthy of tenure. How do you place a numerical value on the lifelong impact a quality educator makes in a student’s life? It’s a genuine concern, especially as this kind of hard-data dependency spreads to other learning institutions.” is the preeminent technology-driven rankings site dedicated to students, researchers, and inquirers from high school through college and beyond, offering resources that connect learners to leaders. (Find further details at the About page.) is a part of the EducationAccess group, a family of sites dedicated to lifelong learning and personal growth.


Jed Macosko, Ph.D.
Academic Director
(682) 302-4945