If you're a college leader filling out a peer survey for U.S. News & World Report, make a copy.
Or two. Put one in your bottom drawer and give another to your secretary.
Just don't expect to ever get it back from the news magazine.
The peer survey is one of several components U.S. News uses in putting together its annual Best Colleges issue, a brisk seller whose pronouncements are routinely trumpeted by universities that rate well.
Essentially, college leaders get to rate their academic programs on a 1 to 5 scale. Anonymously.
None of this would have been of much public consequence had a data analyst from Clemson University not give a Seminar Heard 'Round Higher Education last month at a conference.
Catherine Watt, who worked in institutional research at Clemson and thus was responsible for compiling data sent in to U.S. News for its rankings issue, offered a peek behind the process. In part, she said that leaders at her university and others generally gave low rankings to all their peer institutions in order to make theirs look better.
Of course, Clemson higher-ups quickly put out a statement denouncing Watt's story.
Here's where it gets more interesting.
At public universities, these survey forms for the magazine are public documents. So I asked for copies from N.C. State, UNC Chapel Hill and N.C. Central University in an attempt to find out what each institution's leader had to say about his competitors.
NCCU did not submit one last year.
At UNC-CH, Chancellor Holden Thorp did submit one. At NCSU, now-former Chancellor James Oblinger did as well.
But, according to spokespersons from each institution, neither kept a copy. They each acknowledged that they should have, but did not. A mistake.
On my prodding, they each called the magazine to request a copy of what their campus submitted.
And the magazine said no. Repeatedly.
Turns out U.S. News has a policy on this. The policy, the magazine, says guarantees anonymity.
Here's the justification, in part, as posted on the magazine's website.
We recognize that universities, both public and private, might occasionally want to request copies of surveys completed by their respective officials for their records. And we understand that some public universities might receive requests for copies as a result of public records and freedom of information laws.
However, U.S. News does not make exceptions to this confidentiality policy. This is not to inconvenience respondents or their respective universities, but rather to manage and maintain the credibility of the peer assessment surveys. We see this as part of our duty to protect our sources.
So I guess we'll never know what chancellors Thorp and Oblinger had to say about their peer institutions - and each other.
But there's always next year.
For the record, I also asked Duke to disclose its survey. A spokesman for the private institution politely declined.