The conversation began, “My name is Eileen Artemakis, from the National Merit® Scholarship Corporation, and I have been asked to get the name of your attorney.”
There were no preliminaries or explanations. Ms. Artemakis, NMSC public information director, was employing a not-so-subtle tactic to frighten me out of crossing her bosses at the Corporation who were not pleased by my columns on the scholarship competition. A letter from legal counsel followed a week later.
What did I do to merit threats of legal action? I posted qualifying scores for each of the states and the District of Columbia. According to NMSC lawyers, the Corporation considers this information “proprietary.” But nothing on their website warns of confidentiality and the data is freely shared on the internet. Even the kids on College Confidential have the cutoffs about right every year.
Evidently, the public is not supposed to know or see the numbers laid out in their totality. Why? Possibly because the cutoff scores really don’t look too fair when compared across states, and the Corporation is determined to tamp down uprisings before they become revolutions.
The National Merit® Scholarship Corporation (NMSC) is well-known for sensitivity to criticism. Just ask the National Association for College Admissions Counseling (NACAC) or FairTest, both of which suggested that the NMSC make adjustments in the way it distributes millions of scholarship dollars each year.
And I’m not the only blogger to receive a similar call from the NMSC. NMSC uses a search tool on a daily basis to review websites (sort of like the Chinese government) and the order to contact me came directly from the Corporation’s CEO, Timothy McGuire, who had reviewed my columns.
Today, the Chronicle of Higher Education ran an article (subscription may be required) on my predicament and FairTest released the complete list of qualifying scores for the 2010 competition on its website. It would make much more sense for the Corporation to post this information for public review and walk away from the controversy.
If you run a good program, use a fair methodology and are proud of the outcome, you should have nothing to hide or fear from a little criticism now and again.