One reason law schools care about the U.S. News law school rankings so much is because prospective law students care about the U.S. News law school rankings. The other reason is that people get fired when their schools drop too long and too far in the rankings.

Every year, deans and assistant deans find themselves “pushed out” of a job thanks to the U.S. News rankings. Law schools and university presidents rarely say outright that changes are being made in response to the magazine, but let’s just say that Kenneth Randall, dean of the rising Alabama Law School, is probably very safe in his job for another year.

This year, the rankings seem to have already claimed their first assistant dean casualty. But what’s fun this time around is that students at two law schools have started petitions demanding that their deans get canned for poor performance in U.S. News.

It’s entirely possible that U.S. News is getting more powerful in a market of declining law school applications….

We’ve talked about the huge drop Brooklyn Law School suffered in the rankings. It looks like Brooklyn Law Dean Nick Allard has taken immediate action:

To the BLS Community:

Today, Camille Chin-Kee-Fatt submitted her resignation as Director of Career Services, and I have accepted it. On behalf of the entire community, we are grateful for her service over many years and her commitment to Brooklyn Law School.

Effective immediately, I have appointed Steve Gordon, Deputy Director of Career Services as Acting Director of Career Services. Over the next few weeks, Steve, Camille and I will be working closely together to ensure that there is no disruption to career placement services for students. Finding jobs for our students that are meaningful continues to be my highest priority. Please know that my door is always open to students to talk about this and other issues of concern.

Nick Allard

Boom. You’ll remember that Brooklyn allegedly didn’t collect the detailed employment statistics U.S. News required and then bizarrely decided to not report what they did have to the magazine. We reached out to Dean Allard about this move, but he did not respond to our request for comment.

Tipsters note, however, that the career services director was an easy scapegoat for the new BLS dean:

Dean Allard is still in his first year and so he could hardly be the sacrificial lamb after our fall in the rankings. So, it looks like the Director of Career Services will be on her way out…. What makes it all even funnier? The 2 post-graduate jobs posted on our symplicity site this week. One was as a Claims Adjuster for an Officer & Director Insurance Co. The other? It was from the prestigious Bortstein Legal Group.

Look, I don’t think this woman made the decision to underreport all by herself. But if the U.S. News smackdown inspires Brooklyn to actually take career services a little more seriously, that’s a good thing.

But assistant deans are small potatoes. At American University – Washington College of Law and DePaul Law School, students have started petitions asking the administration to fire their law deans.

In 2010, WCL was ranked #48 in the U.S. News rankings. On Monday, its rank fell to #56. It’s been a steady decline for WCL, which has led to this student petition on Change.org:

Current 3Ls at WCL began their tenure at a law school ranked 45th in the nation by US News and World Report and now attend a school ranked 56th. Part-time 4Ls began in a program ranked 4th in 2009 that now ranks 10th. Aside from the likely unemployment and crippling debt they face, they now will also be graduating with a degree from a “second-tier” school.

You can read the full petition on the next page. The students go on to demand Dean Claudio Grossman’s removal.

A WCL student had even more to say about his school:

WCL is just a horrible trap school that should not exist. No one gets jobs from here and the Faculty and Admins don’t seem to care and are just running as fast as they can into a new huge 300 million dollar school that will not help students get jobs. To say its a psychedelic experience to attend WCL would be an understatement.

I think that should go in the WCL prospective students brochure. “Washington College of Law: Not unlike tripping balls for three years.”

At DePaul College of Law, the school dropped to #109. In 2011, DePaul was ranked #89. So that’s a big drop. Apparently, DePaul Dean Gregory Mark sent out a short, butthurt email about how DePaul remained a great school, blaming U.S. News for DePaul’s free fall. That inspired one student to publish an “incensed” screed on Facebook. It reads in part:

Quite frankly, Dean Mark, I am incensed; more importantly though, I found your e-mail, and your claim of surprise, to be intensely patronizing. There isn’t a single casual observer of the USNWR rankings who wouldn’t have anticipated some shift among placements this year. As we are all aware, a number of law schools had been inflating their employment statistics for some time. It seems obvious to me now that DePaul was among them. You have access to the employment statistics, and every and any measure by which you could possibly count them. I don’t mind a drop in the rankings; what I do mind is being lied to outright.

Assume though, that in the best case scenario, your surprise is truly genuine. That only leads me to further question your competence as Dean, or the competence of any other administrator at the school.

While the obvious response to any e-mail like mine is “Don’t worry about the rankings, you’ll be fine”, such a blanket statement ignores a very basic reality; Students pay attention to rankings. Whether or not employers do is irrelevant. I find it extraordinarily embarrassing that you, and the staff that work on behalf of the University, have proven to be such a colossal failure. I understand you have other obligations. But you ought to understand that ensuring the prestige of this institution is also part of your job. I wish you’d take it a bit more seriously.

You can read his full letter on the next page as well. The student goes on to demand a 22% tuition reduction in response to the school’s 22% drop in the rankings since he matriculated to DePaul.

What you see in both of these letters is that students want their law schools to be accountable, if not to U.S. News then at least to them. If U.S. News is the law dean report card, students want their deans to suffer the consequences of blowing the final exam.

The problem is that law schools aren’t accountable. Not to U.S. News, not to the ABA, not to their students, and not to their graduates. The only group of people that can really hold law schools in check are prospective law students. It’s the next generation of students, the ones who view DePaul as a bottom-half law school, that Dean Mark has to worry about, not the current crop, even if their degrees have been devalued under his watch.

And maddeningly, deans trying to apply quick fixes to falling rankings exacerbate the problem in legal education. It’s easy for a law school to jack up tuition and hire more law professors, which increases cost per student and decreases student-faculty ratio — two things that U.S. News cares about a lot. That’s a lot easier to do than, say, actually helping current students get jobs in a tight legal market.

There are no good solutions here, but you can understand the frustrations of students who end up graduating with a degree that is even less valuable than it was when they started. You don’t want law deans overreacting to the U.S. News law school rankings, but you do want them to suffer the consequences of not helping their students.


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