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

Responding to the New U.S. News Rankings: The Parade of Butthurt Deans Begins Now

I’m not going to lie, these are quickly becoming my favorite columns to write every year.

For approximately 364 days a year, law school deans are free to tell us how great their schools are without being forced to provide any data to support their claims of being the best law school for whatever. But one day, each law school must confront the stark reality of their U.S. News law school ranking. They can disparage the rankings, get angry at the rankings, or boast about the rankings (if they’re lucky). But deans ignore the rankings at their own peril.

And so some deans are forced to address their schools’ poor rankings. They are free to spin things however they want, but for one day, they’re not operating in a vacuum. There is an objective fact that is just a little bit beyond their powers of self-reporting manipulation.

It’s a fun day….

Yesterday, we already had one law dean preemptively complain about the rankings. The dean of Michigan State University College of Law took issue with U.S. News’s new formula before actually seeing the results. MSU students have pointed out that their dean complains about the rankings every year; I still think complaining before you even see them is ridiculous.

These other deans at least kept their powder dry until the rankings were released, but I’m sure some of these guys were poised to complain. For instance, another drop in the rankings couldn’t have come as a shock to Illinois Law dean Bruce Smith. As we mentioned yesterday, Illinois has dropped from #23 to #47 in the rankings over the past two years.

Now I think that the drop is due to Illinois’s scandals and ABA censure. Dean Smith seems to think the rankings are out to get the Illini:

We are disappointed by [our fall from #35 to #47 in the past year]. It fails to capture many of the College’s most important institutional achievements and values: the College’s new Chicago Program; the best bar passage rate in the state of Illinois in summer 2012; the College’s ranking of 17th in terms of alumni ascending to partnership in the nation’s largest and most prestigious law firms; and our fundamental commitment to accessibility, affordability, and transparency.

Among the nation’s top 50 law schools, rankings fluctuate. But the College’s core fundamentals do not. We continue to have an outstanding faculty, superb students, and highly respected alumni who excel at the highest levels of the legal profession across the state, nation, and world. And we look forward to sharing with you the results of our new initiatives – including those in the areas of affordability, professional development, and placement – in the months to come.

Right. Or it could be the whole misstating LSAT scores thing.

The letter from Pitt Law dean William Carter is a little more focused on making Pitt Law students feel better about themselves despite the school’s precipitous drop. The school went from #69 last year all the way down to #91. Dean Carter says:

I will keep you all informed as to what our analysis of this year’s ranking reveals. But rest assured that what it does not reveal is any diminishment in the quality or impact of the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. We will address the rankings issue head-on, but we will not lose sight of what ultimately matters most: the quality of the education we provide and the well-being and success of our students, alumni, and community.

Could it be that what “ultimately matters” is whether or not Pitt is getting jobs for its graduates? Dean Carter’s letter only mentions employment once:

The Law School was recently ranked #39 in absolute terms (and #31 in adjusted per capita terms) in the production of partners at the “NLJ 100” law firms (the country’s 100 largest firms). This again places us ahead of most of our peers and many of our aspirational peers;

That sounds like Pitt Law was a great place to go to school 15 years ago. But what has Pitt Law done for its more recent graduates?

And finally there is Brooklyn Law School. As we noted last night, Brooklyn fell from #65 to #80. Brooklyn Law Dean Nick Allard told his students that it was the school’s decision to not give U.S. News what it wanted, and somehow they’re surprised that it mattered so much:

Our reported figure for 2011 graduates employed nine months after graduation reflects a significant drop in this category from previous years…. Quite apart from their impact on the rankings, our employment statistics are a clear concern for BLS’s leadership, and one that we are working tirelessly to address. We have committed significant new resources to help our students pursue and obtain the jobs that they want and deserve.

Our “9 months out” employment rate, however, does not alone explain our unexpected decline in the rankings. We believe that it is the result of our decision not to report a figure for the percentage of graduates employed at graduation. The information U.S. News requested for that category was changed dramatically this past year. They asked for details that we did not collect in 2011, and we (like some other schools) decided that rather than attempting to construct after the fact an imprecise number to answer to U.S. News’s question, we simply would not provide an answer for that category. This was done in an effort to ensure that our reported figures were completely accurate and transparent. Obviously we did not realize that we would be penalized harshly for not reporting data we did not collect at that time, nor that it would impact our ranking so starkly.

A few points here, in no particular order:

  • Really, you weren’t collecting data for “employed upon graduation”? Really?
  • The “details” that U.S. News was asking for were really designed to prevent you from gaming the rankings. It sounds like your plan of obfuscating the facts just didn’t work out this year.
  • So instead of giving U.S. News what they wanted, your plan was to give them nothing at all and just, what, hope that U.S. News decided it didn’t really want that information?

Honestly, even taking BK Law at its word, the hubris is kind of amazing. They just didn’t report crucial employment information and were surprised that they were punished. Would they accept that from students? “Oh, I just didn’t show up to Tax because I don’t want to be a tax lawyer, but I did not realize I’d be penalized so harshly in my grade.”

Look, the days of law schools taking their employment outcomes lightly are at an end. I guess Brooklyn knows this now.

That’s the early reaction on the East Coast. Let’s look at some of the responses out west…

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