Law School Deans, Law Schools, Rankings, U.S. News

Early Reactions to the U.S. News Rankings: Deans and the Excuses They Make

Amazingly, one of the early arguments from deans at schools that fell in the rankings is to blame transparency for the downgrade. Yeah, some deans are saying that being forced to be honest about the employment outcomes from their students resulted in an unfair drop in the U.S. News rankings. Check this out from Washington University School of Law:

When U.S. News & World Report released its Best Graduate Schools rankings on March 13, Washington University Law School’s ranking moved down for the first time in seven years. The drop is a direct result of a change in the way employment placement is defined and reported by the American Bar Association, as well as the very difficult marketplace for jobs faced by all graduates in the class of 2010. For other USN&WR categories (LSAT, peer assessment score, lawyers/judges score), Washington University Law School continues to place in the top 20.

This year, for the first time, the ABA took responsibility for collecting employment data. In doing so, it established new, more stringent definitions that focus on student-by-student placement. In the spirit of transparency and openness, we immediately took a rigorous and careful approach to reporting our placement data for the class of 2010 under these new criteria…

We take seriously our standing in the rankings, but we take even more seriously our obligation to our students and graduates to report all data accurately

The implication from Washington is that they made a serious commitment to transparency, while other schools did not. It’s a particularly galling argument because it’s not like WUSTL took seriously its “obligation to our students and graduates to report all data accurately” LAST YEAR! You can’t take the high ground here when the ABA had to nail you to it.

The University of Connecticut School of Law also continued its fall in rankings. The school is down to #62. Just a few years ago it was at #52. Here’s how Dean Jeremy Paul tried to explain the plummet, in pertinent part:

Our preliminary assessment indicates that we suffered in the rankings as a result of two challenges we have faced in recent years. Law school applications in our region have fallen off, and our scholarship budgets have been insufficient for us to recruit all the bright students we wish to attract. Moreover, the job market for attorneys in our region has been particularly hard hit by the recent recession, and Connecticut has been a bit slower in emerging from the downturn. Accordingly, 81.1% of our 2010 graduates reported having jobs by February 2011, a number that lagged behind some of our competitor schools, particularly since 2010 was the last year in which schools could report as employed graduates working at jobs funded by their own law schools. We have never engaged in this effort to manipulate the numbers, and the ABA has made such tactics more difficult for next year’s rankings. But we do need help from newly minted alumni/ae whose diligence in reporting employment status can boost us a few percentage points. In the compressed scoring of U.S. News, every person counts.

If you’ve never engaged in employment outcome manipulation (and let’s pretend we believe that), then not being able to manipulate statistics shouldn’t have adversely affected your ranking this year.

Still, you can see the stress Dean Paul is under just from this part of the email. UConn Law professor Peter Lindseth tried to buck up Dean Paul, but he happened to hit “reply-all” when he was trying to share his private message:

Hi Jeremy. I’m sure it’s been a rough week. When you come up for air (hopefully sooner rather than later), I’d like to discuss the SPC for next year, in case you’re planning to form that committee again. I’m ready to serve. Can we talk by phone or Skype sometime (better sooner than later)? Let me know. -Peter

Rough week indeed.

At least not every law school dean is trying to blame being honest on their school’s poor showing. At Villanova Law, Dean John Gotanda at least indirectly acknowledges that it’s Villanova’s history of lying that is hurting the school now:

Dear Faculty, Students, and Staff,

Earlier today, U.S News & World Report announced its Best Law Schools 2013 Rankings. Villanova University School of Law was ranked #101 nationwide, 17 spots below the 2012 ranking of #84. This drop in our ranking reflects the continuing effect of the public censure issued by the American Bar Association in August 2011, regarding wrongdoing by former administrators in the reporting of admissions data. In light of this highly-publicized event, it is not surprising that the Law School’s reputational score among deans and faculty members at other law schools, which accounts for 25% of our overall score, dropped significantly this year…

Most importantly, while the U.S. News & World Report rankings look back at past events, Villanova University School of Law is focused intently on the future and our new Strategic Plan. The legal profession, in all of its forms, is constantly evolving and to that end, so must legal education. To ensure the vibrancy and relevance of our curriculum and programs, and the success of the Villanova Law graduate, we are examining every aspect of legal education in the twenty-first century as part of our ongoing strategic planning initiative.

Oh, I don’t know about that. I think the U.S. News law school rankings are very forward-looking — at least for law school deans who are concerned about their future job security.

Earlier: The U.S. News Law School Rankings Are Out!
ATL March Madness (2012): The Most Honest Law School

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