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

The Annual Parade Of Law Deans Butthurt Over U.S. News

This has become one of my favorite posts to write every year. The U.S. News 2015 Law School Rankings are out. Some schools did well, some schools dropped like stones, and some deans from some schools send out emails encouraging students that there is NOTHING TO SEE HERE and the U.S. News rankings should be ignored.

Unless they do well. Deans from schools bathing in the warm light of U.S. News send out messages like this one from Florida State’s dean:

Dear Alum:

I am delighted to report that U.S. News & World Report has ranked Florida State University College of Law as Florida’s #1 law school, at 45th best nationally. Our closest Florida competitor was the University of Florida Levin College of Law, which it ranked at 49th best nationally. Thanks. Don

Donald J. Weidner
Dean and Alumni Centennial Professor
Florida State University College of Law

Undefeated football team, top-ranked law school in Florida, Chief Osceola seems to be leading the University of Florida on a trail of tears.

Congrats to FSU. Now, let’s get to the sad-faced deans….

Catholic University’s Columbus School of Law has the standard message from deans of schools that drop. Catholic Law plummeted from #80 to #107. The school’s website already posts this response:

Given the ongoing turmoil in legal education precipitated by a dramatic decline in enrollment at all U.S. Law schools in recent years, our drop from #80 to #107 in the just released US News rankings was not unexpected. This annually recalculated ranking has no connection to the excellence of the education we offer. We are the same law school with the same strengths that we were yesterday and that we will remain tomorrow…

We will soon report to the ABA an employment rate of 82% for the class of 2013, an uptick of nearly two percentage points from the previous year. But, curiously, US News reports our class of 2012 employment rate at 62% (not the actual 80%), after making its own value judgments about the appropriate weight to be assigned different types of jobs.

The formulas used by US News to calculate law school rankings should not be confused with an objective methodology. Fully 40% of a law school’s ranking consists of merely the “opinions” of those surveyed, meaning that those who fill out the annual questionnaires are asked to assign a 1 to 5 grade to every accredited law school in the country, regardless of what they really know about a given institution and without being asked to provide any information to support any ranking.

You have to love the “that’s your opinion, man” defense. You can read the full Catholic response on the next page. You’ll note that Catholic spends a lot of time disparaging the U.S. News rankings with reference to… other rankings.

However, it is “curious” that U.S. News uses class of 2012 data, isn’t it? The Above the Law Rankings will be coming out later in April… and maybe now you’ll understand our “curious” timing.

American University’s Washington College of Law also took a beating. Looking at American, Catholic, and Washington & Lee, the message seems clear: if you want to work in D.C., go to Georgetown or GTFO.

Anyway, American has a particularly defensive response to all of this:

We are not pleased with our decline from 56 to 72 in the U.S. News general ranking of U.S. law schools, but the educational policies of our institution should not be compromised by a commercial ranking. The volatility, inconsistency, and unreliability of this ranking is well-known within and outside of legal education. In fact, changes in the rankings criteria year to year have resulted in extreme movements up and down, affecting schools whose relative quality remains unchanged. The same publication provides a diversity index that is not factored into their law school ranking, despite the central importance of diversity on the depth and quality of a legal education in particular. AUWCL ranks near the top of this index as one of the most diverse law schools in the country, yet our U.S. News rank fails to take into account, in any form whatsoever, this important and valuable distinction…

AUWCL’s unique environment of opportunity, diversity, and specialized knowledge puts students and values first. We make no apologies for this distinction and, to the contrary, take great pride in it. We look forward to continuing to reflect those values as we move to the new Tenley Campus in fall 2015—a state-of-the-art facility one block from the Metro that will expand possibilities to continue to attract bright, diverse students and connect those students even more to the professional opportunities found in Washington, DC. The move to Tenley Campus will mark a new chapter in our school’s unwavering commitment to promoting the rule of law, opportunity, and access to justice, through high quality and inclusive legal education.

Yes, yes, yes. Having a “diverse” group of graduates who can’t get jobs is laudable. But as one tipster put it: “If I would have known that I was choosing to attend an institution that sacrificed competitiveness for inclusiveness, I would have chosen any other school.”

But did you guys catch the “Tenley Campus” section? “Don’t worry about the drop in rankings, students and graduates, we have a fancy new building. Everything will be better!” Maybe instead of investing in new campuses, American should invest in new career services officers so that its diverse students can get some diverse jobs.

But my favorite response thus far has been from Boston College Law School. BC only fell from #31 to #36, which isn’t terrible. But BU Law is at #27, up from #29, so BC is now clearly behind its rival, according to U.S. News. That might have inspired this response from Vincent Rougeau, dean of BC Law:

This year’s ranking is not an accurate picture of who we are as a school. In evaluating the numbers more closely, our drop was caused by a decline in some key data points including our peer assessment score and our employment numbers. I will be working with the faculty, administration, and representatives from the University to take concrete steps to improve our standing in these areas. We will build upon plans put in motion during the last year, intensify our efforts to ensure that our true value is more properly represented, and implement new initiatives that impact these points. These efforts and initiatives include:

A focus on reputation. We have received funding from the University to support faculty research and scholarship, which are important drivers of reputational scores. I will ensure that these resources are utilized for the maximum benefit. Working with the University Office of Marketing Communications, we will be releasing to key law school leaders a series of communications pieces highlighting our new faculty hires, publications and institutional initiatives. I am also in conversations with the University regarding a consulting firm that would help address our reputation. I strongly believe that the quality of our institution is not properly reflected in these scores. We are finding better ways to highlight our strengths.

A focus on jobs. Placement statistics are a large component of the rankings, but more importantly, increasing our employment numbers helps our graduates. While our placement statistics are the third highest of all New England law schools, we are fully committed to improving our numbers. Last summer, we completed a restructuring of our Career Services Office that included an upgrade of three positions for key existing staff and the hiring of new personnel into the remaining three positions. This was a major commitment to the law school by Boston College.

I love how it takes U.S. News to get BC on board with a focus on jobs. “[B]ut more importantly, increasing our employment numbers helps our graduates.” YOU THINK? Did it just now occur to you that “increasing employment numbers” is maybe something that a law school should be doing?

But this is why U.S. News is important. Students and graduates may gnash teeth and Hulk Hogan garments, but if it doesn’t show up in the U.S. News rankings, law deans really don’t have to care. U.S News is the only “report card” that law deans care about. Thus, circularly perhaps, it matters a great deal.

Check out the full emails from all of these schools on the next page. And let’s all wait for the response from Washington & Lee….

ATL Law School Directory
(hidden for your protection)

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