A journalist sent the following message about a previous controversy involving the author of TIME article on tenure.

Hi Diane — I understand that the cover of TIME is more strident than the article, but it rang a bell about an earlier controversy connected to the same writer.

The TIME reporter, Haley Sweetland Edwards, did a bizarre bash on S.F. Bay Area community colleges last year for the Washington Monthly that was rebutted by one of her main sources. The article got surprisingly little attention, and for that reason no one seems to have really dissected it, and I haven’t done that either.

It particularly bashed College of Marin, a low-poverty community college in suburban Marin County. I’m pretty sure but haven’t confirmed that the bash was largely due to a high number of students like my parents, now 87 and 91, who have taken ceramics, welding and music classes at College of Marin and have, gasp, failed to graduate or transfer to four-year colleges.

The article also bashed high-poverty City College of San Francisco, which has been threatened with losing its accreditation and has been fighting back with apparent success (and where I’ve also taken classes), but the College of Marin portion stood out as particularly bizarre.

The bash on Bay Area community colleges was a separate article accompanying a rankings feature in the Washington Monthly.


The article cited data from the Community College Survey of Student Engagement (CCSSE).

Kay McClenney of the CCSSE objected to the use of the data and refuted the article’s substance in a strongly worded letter posted after the article (you have to scroll to find it). Excerpts from McClenney’s rebuttal:

“Edwards’s article includes multiple errors of fact and misuses of survey data. …

“As has occurred in the past, the Washington Monthly created the magazine’s rankings in large part through misuse of data drawn from the CCSSE website and then manipulated in ways not transparent to the reader. The ranking method thus is based on an undisclosed calculation combining CCSSE results and IPEDS data. There are so many things about this approach that are statistically wrong that it is impossible to overstate how spurious the results really are.”