Big deans don't cry?

Yesterday we talked about a couple of schools that fell in this year’s U.S. News law school rankings, whose deans promptly devoted school-wide emails making excuses for their programs dropping. Predictably, they criticized U.S. News’s latest methodology, even though this year’s formula did a better job of focusing on factors law students actually care about (like jobs, not donuts).

We asked you to send us other responses from law school administrations regarding this year’s rankings. And, ye Gods, foot soldiers with no clear mission or exit strategy in Afghanistan aren’t bitching and moaning as much as law school deans are just because U.S. News prefers schools that get their students jobs. If these crybaby deans could care about the employment outcomes of their students half as much as they care about the U.S. News rankings, then going to law school wouldn’t be such a financially dangerous option and their schools would do better in the rankings.

We were overwhelmed by the responses. Keep ‘em coming! But we’ll have to deal with many of them when we get to the appropriate point in our series of open threads on law schools.

Today I just want to focus on a few schools that did better in the rankings this year, yet still found the time to bitch about U.S. News. You expect schools that drop to be dismissive of the rankings, but when schools that are bathed in rankings glory are unsatisfied, that’s a little bit more interesting….

Of all the things that expose how stupid it is to base your law school decision on rankings listed in a magazine, this year’s Chicago-Kent College of Law story takes the cake.

Last year, Chicago-Kent was ranked #80 by U.S. News. This year, the school climbed all the way to #61. What accounts for the school’s meteoric rise in one year? Well, apparently the Chicago-Kent administration lobbied to get U.S. News to change the name of the school when it sent out its reputational surveys. In previous years, the school was listed as “Illinois Institute of Technology (Chicago-Kent).” This year, a change was made on the surveys to emphasize the “Chicago-Kent” part, while glossing over the “Institute of Technology” stuff that makes the school sound like you can attend classes online while sitting in your pajamas after putting in a long day at the paper mill.

Chicago-Kent Law = #61. Illinois Institute of Technology Law = #80. Behold, your rankings! These rankings are the most important factor in an admitted student’s decision about where to matriculate. I will now ritualistically bang my head into a wall to symbolize the futility involved with talking sense to prospective law students.

(Oww.)

That’s why even schools that do well in the rankings can understand the limited utility of this list. The dean of Cardozo (up two spots to #50 this year), Matthew Diller, sent a school-wide email that was at least reserved about the bump:

These rankings are just one measure and it is important to recognize the serious limitations of all rankings including US News. That said, these results confirm something that we at Cardozo know about our terrific programs, and the school overall. Cardozo Law School offers a wealth of intellectual opportunity and hands-on experience through our outstanding and brilliant faculty.

And Maryland Law, which went up to #42 from #48 last year, got to hear its dean, Phoebe Haddon, sound downright dismissive of the solid U.S. News showing:

Dear students:

I’m sure by now you are aware that U.S. News & World Report’’s 2012 edition of Best Grad Schools was published today. The University of Maryland School of Law is ranked #42…

For many years I have worked with other faculty members and deans across the country to understand the impact of the rankings on legal education and to explore alternative metrics and systems for creating accountability and measuring the quality of law schools. Providing reliable data to help students evaluate law schools and make decisions about where to attend is important to us. That said, the specific weighting formula invented by U. S. News is a rather arbitrary one….

We all know that the U.S. News rankings formula fails to capture the unique strengths of each law school. At Maryland, we value and track many measures of excellence the U. S. News formula won’t capture: [listing of factors]….

And remember, Maryland is going up in the rankings without raising law school tuition.

These rankings end up being so important because law school administrators do a terrible job of presenting objective facts to prospective students and employers looking for fresh talent. Even schools, schools like Maryland, that seem to try to be telling things to students straight, still have the stench of all the other law schools that act like graduate outcomes are unimportant. It’s like the steroid era in baseball: there are so many bad apples that you’d be stupid to believe any of them.

The U.S. News system fails to capture a bunch of things, but what it does manage to capture it tries to do so objectively. Prospective students can’t trust what law schools say about employment statistics, because law schools spin those stats to death. Employers can’t trust law school transcripts, because law schools futz around with their grading curves like a socialite in a shoe store. Law schools have lost their credibility, and so people turn to U.S. News. The people want honesty. “They’re so thirsty for it they’ll crawl through the desert toward a mirage, and when they discover there’s no water, they’ll drink the sand.”

Whether the law school goes up or down in the rankings, these administrators have more than enough ammo to poke holes in the U.S. News methodology. It’s flawed, obviously. But they only have themselves to blame for the public’s reliance on this for-profit list. They are the ones who are supposed to be providing accurate, relevant, objective, and timely information on the value of legal education so that people can make informed decisions about their future. But they refuse to do.

So let’s all strip naked and dance like heathens around the bonfire erected for us by U.S. News. “OMG! School X fell 20 spots! Hahahaha, what a TTT. Totes. I’M THE TROLL KING.” We can do that. We’ve all gotten really good at it.

If law school deans would like everybody to have a more civilized and nuanced discussion about the relative strengths of legal institutions around the country, they’ll first have to stop trying to spin and obfuscate the relevant, objective information that people crave.

Earlier: Start Your Whining: Schools Make Excuses for Their Poor U.S. News Rankings
Even If You Told Prospective Law Students the Truth, Would They Care?


CARDOZO LAW SCHOOL

Subject: US News and World Report on Law Schools
To: Class of 2010, Class of 2011, Class of 2012, Class of 2013, LLMs, Visiting and Exchange Students

To the Cardozo Law community,

As you may know, US News released its 2012 Law School rankings today. Cardozo improved its position in the rankings in a number of important respects. The school is ranked 5th in the nation in intellectual property – and first among New York City law schools. We are also ranked as 6th in the nation for dispute resolution, which was also the highest New York school ranking. The overall ranking of Cardozo Law is 50th among approximately 200 law schools, and our ranking for part-time programs is 4th in the nation.

These rankings are just one measure and it is important to recognize the serious limitations of all rankings including US News. That said, these results confirm something that we at Cardozo know about our terrific programs, and the school overall. Cardozo Law School offers a wealth of intellectual opportunity and hands-on experience through our outstanding and brilliant faculty.

I want to express my continued appreciation for the work of all our dedicated teachers throughout the school—especially those in Cardozo Intellectual Property and Information Law Program and to Lela Love who has built our Alternative Dispute Resolution program. Our professors are among the best anywhere, and I see their passion and accomplishments throughout the year. On behalf of the entire Cardozo community I want to say how proud we are of your outstanding work and how grateful for your leadership in the classroom and beyond.

Thank you to our students whose hard work and achievements I see every day. You bring passion and intellect to every aspect of life at the school and contribute greatly to our high reputation in the legal community. And thank you to the administrators and staff who tirelessly work to advance Cardozo’s mission and reputation as a world class law school.

With warm regards,

Matthew Diller
Dean


UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND SCHOOL OF LAW

From: Phoebe Haddon
Date: Tue, Mar 15, 2011 at 11:00 PM
Subject: U. S. News Rankings
To: LAW-All Students

Dear students:

I’m sure by now you are aware that U.S. News & World Report’’s 2012 edition of Best Grad Schools was published today. The University of Maryland School of Law is ranked #42. In specific areas, UMDLaw is ranked as follows:

Clinical Law: #6
Environmental Law: #7
Health Law: #3
Part-Time Program: #8
Trial Advocacy: #8 (This is an area in which UMDLaw is newly ranked.)

The U.S. News rankings provide but a small window into a few of the many factors that are important measures for law schools to track. The data related to many of these factors and others is reported by law schools to the American Bar Association, our accrediting body. Data about each law school in the United States is available through the LSAC website: https://officialguide.lsac.org/release/OfficialGuide_Default.aspx.

For many years I have worked with other faculty members and deans across the country to understand the impact of the rankings on legal education and to explore alternative metrics and systems for creating accountability and measuring the quality of law schools. Providing reliable data to help students evaluate law schools and make decisions about where to attend is important to us. That said, the specific weighting formula invented by U. S. News is a rather arbitrary one. The formula is felt by many, including me, to (1) increase the cost of legal education to students, (2) discourage financial aid based on need, and (3) reduce incentives to enhance diversity in the legal profession. I shared these views in a July 2010 Report as a member of the Special Committee on the U.S. News & World Report Rankings of the ABA Section on Legal Education and Admission to the Bar. It remains, however, as our Committee stated in its Report, “[F]or better or worse, U. S. News rankings will continue for the foreseeable future to dominate public perceptions of how law schools compare . . . .”

We all know that the U.S. News rankings formula fails to capture the unique strengths of each law school. At Maryland, we value and track many measures of excellence the U. S. News formula won’t capture: (1) the growth of our academic programs, especially in business law and international law; (2) the increasing productivity and influence of our faculty, who over the last six years have doubled the number of books published and increased by 50% the number of articles published in top law journals; (3) the increase in philanthropic donations from our graduates and expanding network of friends; and (4) the importance of our clinical work as evidenced by the outpouring of support from hundreds of faculty members across the country when our environmental law clinic came under scrutiny by the Maryland General Assembly. Your opinion is important to us as well. In the most recent Law School Survey of Student Engagement (LSSSE), 83.2% of you rated your experience at UMDLaw as good or excellent, and 82.4% of you said you would choose Maryland Law if you had to do it over again—numbers that are higher than the national average and those of our competitors and peers.

Together with all of the deans, I personally have worked to expand our outreach across the country, maintaining and building relationships with employers in the private sector, the government and the judiciary, so that as the economy improves UMDLaw will continue in the forefront. Our outstanding faculty, strong focus on both theory and practice, and rich alumni network make our students well-positioned for employment in these areas. From what students, alumni, employers and others are telling us, we are achieving our mission of providing a strong tradition of excellence and innovation in legal education and scholarship. And we are trying to do it while working hard to hold the line on tuition for the coming academic year.

I am very proud of the rich fabric of this institution and the future that lies before us. We need you and all of our constituents, from faculty and staff to alumni to donors, to serve as ambassadors for the University of Maryland School of Law. We are truly a great law school because of the wonderful community that we all work so hard to create.

Sincerely,
Dean Haddon

Phoebe A. Haddon
Dean and Professor of Law
University of Maryland School of Law


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