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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Case Western Dean: Just Say No to U.S. News

Op-ed in next week's National Law Journal:  Say "Enough" to "U.S. News," by Gary J. Simson, Dean at Case Western (which fell ten places in the U.S. News overall rankings last year to #63):

Many law school deans are upset about the recent announcement by U.S. News & World Report that it is seriously considering revising its law school rankings methodology to treat part-time students' entering credentials (LSAT score and undergraduate GPA) no differently than full-time students'. [blogged here, here, here, here, here, here, and here] ...

There is much room for reasonable debate among law deans as to how problematic the U.S. News proposal is, whether any deficiencies in it are curable with fine-tuning, and whether U.S. News should instead be thinking seriously about its treatment of transfer students. However, it seems beyond debate that it is truly depressing that law deans, who have so many important educational issues to address, feel the pressure they undeniably feel to make important decisions about their schools in response to a popular magazine's educationally unsophisticated decisions about ranking methodology. ...

Deans feel obliged to become experts in the ways of winning in the rankings, and in seeking higher rankings; the faculty and administration all too often make structural decisions about the law school with the rankings foremost in mind. In an effort to boost entering students' credentials they cut, often quite dramatically, the number of students in the first-year class. Then, to make up for the lost income to their heavily tuition-dependent school, they increase, often quite dramatically, the number of transfer students or LL.M. students and they develop a part-time program or expand an existing one. They economize by not filling faculty lines vacated by retirements and departures and by downsizing the staff. They diminish or even eliminate need-based financial aid in favor of using scholarship money to target incoming students who will boost the median LSAT and GPA. ...

What, then, do I propose now in response to the U.S. News announcement of a possible change in its ranking formula? I propose that law school faculties and administrations treat the announcement as a wake-up call and recognize how much they have allowed themselves to be at the mercy of editors whose primary interest is selling magazines, rather than providing a means of ranking schools that actually might promote the things that make for genuine greatness in a law school. This announcement, and the wrench that it threatens to throw into structural changes that have been made to avoid being disadvantaged by a deeply flawed methodology, should cause law school faculties and administrations everywhere to finally say "enough" and that they are done participating in a ranking system that has done substantial harm and little, if any, good to legal education in the United States. Even the faculty and administration at the most highly ranked schools — those schools that today appear to be winning in the rankings game — should recognize that they have a major stake in abandoning a system that, at some magazine editors' whim, could be suddenly revamped in ways that could send those schools plummeting from their lofty perch.

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