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Higher on the List

A university in Saudi Arabia is recruiting researchers to be adjunct professors there in what appears to be a bid to increase its rankings on lists like those put together by US News and World Report, says the Daily Californian.

The University of California, Berkeley's Lior Pachter noticed when US News and World Report's rankings came out in October that King Abdulaziz University in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, ranked number seven in the world for mathematics despite the university only starting its doctoral program in math two years prior. Meanwhile, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which is home to one of the top math departments in the world, came in at the 11th spot on the list, Pachter adds at his blog.

KAU, Pachter says, has been recruiting professors with high citation rates — a metric that looms large in how universities are ranked.

Jonathan Eisen at UC-Davis tells the Daily Californian that he had been contacted by KAU, though declined its offer to be a distinguished adjunct professor. Eisen shared his email exchange with KAU with Daily Californian and Pachter, and now has it at his own blog. In it, Eisen is offered $72,000 for a year, in return for collaborating with a KAU professor, spending some time there, changing his ISI profile so it includes the KAU affiliation, and publishing with that affiliation.

"I've been offered money to be a visiting scientist somewhere and even done that occasionally," Eisen tells the Daily Californian. "But they don't come out and say, 'We want to list your name as one of our faculty members.' "

Berkeley's Chris Somerville started as a KAU adjunct professor this year, helping researchers with a grant proposal. He was supposed to visit the university, but says the trip never seemed to work out. When the Daily Californian asked him whether he though he'd be hired for his citations, he says he'd "started wondering about it" but couldn't say for sure.

Science highlighted this program in 2011, and at that time, Surender Jain, a retired math professor at Ohio University who had helped recruit academics to the KAU program, said that its main purpose was to "improve the visibility and ranking" of the university, but also to help new research program there get off the ground.