TaxProf Blog

Editor: Paul L. Caron, Dean
Pepperdine University School of Law

Sunday, March 25, 2018

More On Pepperdine's Place In The 2019 Law School Rankings

U.S. News 2019Updated:  Following up on last week's post, Pepperdine's Place in the Law School Rankings:

National Law Journal, Berkeley Law Returns to the U.S. News' Top 10, Pepperdine Gets Shut Out:

The closely watched law school rankings offer few surprises this year, save for a decision to temporarily delist Pepperdine University School of Law for an data reporting mistake. ...

This year’s list has a little extra controversy.

U.S. News removed Pepperdine University School of Law from the ranking after the school reported a mistake in the median LSAT score it provided to the publication. According to Pepperdine law dean Paul Caron, the school last week realized that it had incorrectly reported its median LSAT score as 162 instead of the correct 160 when it saw the early embargoed version of the rankings that U.S. News provides each school for review. (The initial ranking had Pepperdine moving up from No. 72 to No. 59.)

Rather than recalculate the school’s rank and issue a new list prior to the official release, as the Caron requested, U.S. News removed Pepperdine’s ranking altogether.

“It is, of course, deeply disappointing to be unranked for a year,” Caron wrote in a post on his Tax Prof Blog. “But the reality is that we made great progress in the rankings this year, and should continue our ascent next year.”

Caron said several experts concluded that Pepperdine would have ranked 62nd or 64th using the correct median LSAT.

University of Chicago law professor Brian Leiter, a frequent critic of law school rankings, said on his blog that U.S. News’ handling of the situation will dissuade law schools from disclosing any inadvertent mistakes in their data. “No good deed goes unpunished by [U.S. News Chief Data Strategist] Bob Morse & Co.,” Leiter wrote.

Morse said that U.S. News handles misreported data on a case-by-case basis. “It is worth noting that Pepperdine did complete the data verification process during the data collection for law schools,  assuring U.S. News that its information was accurate,” Morse said. “We do rely on schools to accurately report their information, and we thank them for their cooperation and efforts in doing just that.”

Above the Law, The OFFICIAL 2019 U.S. News Law School Rankings Are Here! Did Pepperdine Really Deserve to be Stripped of its Ranking?:

First and foremost, let’s chat about Pepperdine — or for the 2019 rankings, we might as well refer to the school as “Pepperdone,” since it’s now unranked. Dean Paul Caron said it was “deeply disappointing to be unranked for a year,” but what we think is more disappointing is the fact that Caron is being penalized for his honesty. Yes, per U.S. News Chief Data Strategist Bob Morse, Pepperdine did “complete the data verification process during the data collection for law schools, assuring U.S. News that its information was accurate,” but sometimes errors go unnoticed and must be corrected at a later date.

What’s the lesson to be learned here? Perhaps it’s more preferable to inflate admissions data and only seek to correct it when it’s too late for those students who chose to enroll based on that data to do anything about it, à la the University of Illinois Law School U.S. News scandal from several years back. As University of Chicago law professor and frequent rankings critic Brian Leiter noted on his blog, “No good deed goes unpunished by Bob Morse & Co.” Better luck next year.

Above the Law, Have Law Schools Lost All Credibility With The U.S. News Rankings?:

When I learned about Pepperdine Law School’s placement to unranked status in the recent U.S. News Law School Rankings due to an inadvertent mistake, I was surprised.

Their mistake seemed innocent enough. According to Pepperdine’s Dean Paul Caron, the school’s median LSAT score was 160 but was mistakenly reported as 162. As soon as he learned about the mistake, he contacted U.S. News and asked for an adjustment even though it would have placed them lower in the rankings.

And Pepperdine was punished for its dean’s honesty. ...

This action could create a disincentive to be honest. It would encourage law schools to ask for forgiveness instead of permission. But if U.S. News gives this kind of punishment for a minor mistake, imagine what they will do for intentional fraud.

But I get this strange feeling that U.S. News would not treat all law schools the same way they did Pepperdine. For example, if any of the elite schools made a similar inadvertent mistake (particularly the Holy Trinity), I suspect they will be given preferential treatment. This is because they wouldn’t dare place Yale, Harvard, or Stanford on the unranked list because other than drawing a few laughs, it would cause a national debate as to the legitimacy of rankings in general. And we can’t have that, because that would be bad for sales.

ABA Journal, US News Law School Rankings Are Released; Pepperdine's Mistake Costs It a Ranking:

Above the Law and Law.com are reporting on a controversial decision affecting this year’s rankings. Pepperdine Law School jumped from 72 to 59 in an embargoed version of the rankings, spurring the school to take another look at its numbers, Pepperdine law dean Paul Caron wrote at TaxProf Blog. The school determined it made an error. Its median LSAT score for all its students was 160, not 162 as initially reported to U.S. News.

Pepperdine told U.S. News about the error. In response, U.S. News removed Pepperdine and said it was “unranked due to a reporting error by the school.” According to Caron, the school would have been ranked 62nd or 64th if U.S. News had recalculated the rankings with the corrected information.

U.S. News chief data strategist Bob Morse told Law.com that misreported data is handled on a case-by-case basis. “It is worth noting that Pepperdine did complete the data verification process during the data collection for law schools, assuring U.S. News that its information was accurate,” Morse said. “We do rely on schools to accurately report their information, and we thank them for their cooperation and efforts in doing just that.”

Nick Allard (Dean, Brooklyn):

Pepperdine's USN predicament is not to be wished upon any school, and surely was not sought by that fine school, nor its distinguished, widely respected dean. However, I believe it is likely that circumstances will in the end call more attention than otherwise would have been paid to Pepperdine's high standing and that it would have moved up in the rankings if it had been ranked this year. Further, Pepperdine's reputation should be justifiably enhanced due to its initiative in attempting to correct an inadvertent error that was to its own advantage. Admirable.

Glenn Reynolds (Tennessee), How U.S. News Shafted Pepperdine Law School:

My sense, actually, is that Pepperdine is doing very well these days, and if the ranking system worked it would be moving up. ...

I think U.S. News blew this call. And credit to Dean Paul Caron for reporting the error; I feel certain that some schools wouldn’t have been so honest.

Brian Leiter (Chicago), US News To Law Schools: Don't Own Up To Data Reporting Errors, Or We Will Punish You:

Pepperdine as case study. No good deed goes unpunished by Bob Morse & co.

Bradley A. Areheart (Tennessee), The Top 100 Law Schools, Based On 5-, 10-, And 15-Year Rolling Average U.S. News Rankings:

Brad 3

* Although U.S. News did not officially assign a rank to Pepperdine in light of an inadvertent reporting error, I have assigned a rank in accordance with the lowest rank suggested by Pepperdine after consulting with three rankings experts. See https://taxprof.typepad.com//taxprof_blog/2018/03/ pepperdines-place-in-the-2019-us-news-rankings.html. Further, since U.S. News did not re-rank law schools after designating Pepperdine “unranked”, I have used 65 (not 64) to ensure a rank commensurate with — but not better than — the schools with whom Pepperdine, under the more conservative formulation, should be tied (who were originally ranked 65, but if re-ranked, would have come in at 64).

Graphic, Law School Unranked After Reporting Error:

Pepperdine School of Law was unranked from the top law schools by the U.S. News & World Report for 2019 due to a reporting error. ...

“All law schools got an advanced look at the rankings last Tuesday,” Caron said. “We were checking to make sure everything was correct and when we saw this mistake, we immediately contacted the U.S. News and informed them of it. We assumed because they sent it to us a week ahead of time, we could correct any mistakes if there were any. They have a corporate policy that they don’t correct mistakes.”

The initial ranking had Pepperdine moving up from No. 71 to No. 59. Law school ranking experts said Pepperdine School of Law would have still moved up the rankings to 62 or 64, had U.S. News recorded the rankings with the correct LSAT median, Caron wrote in a statement on his blog, TaxProf Blog.

Currently, there is a hole where Pepperdine was originally ranked on the U.S. News & World Report for 2019 list. ...

Caron said he is working with the university to create materials to provide to prospective employers and applicants.

“We’re hard at work developing material explaining all of this to give to anyone who asks,” Caron said. “Those materials show where Pepperdine is actually ranked this year, even though they are not in the official version. It’s an extra hurdle in which we have to explain the actual facts, because the actual facts are very good.”

Of those materials, Caron said he would include University of Tennessee Professor Bradley Areheart’s law school ratings of university averages from the past 10 years. Pepperdine is ranked 57. ...

The incident has stirred conversation among several professors and deans. The dean at Brooklyn Law School, Nick Allard, wrote on TaxProfBlog that he is certain this will end up helping Pepperdine because of the attention.

“I believe it is likely that circumstances will in the end call more attention than otherwise would have been paid to Pepperdine’s high standing and that it would have moved up in the rankings if it had been ranked this year,” Allard wrote. “Further, Pepperdine’s reputation should be justifiably enhanced due to its initiative in attempting to correct an inadvertent error that was to its own advantage.”

UpdatePepperdine And U.S. News: A Problem Of Unregulated Monopoly?

https://taxprof.typepad.com/taxprof_blog/2018/03/more-on-pepperdines-place-in-the-2019-law-school-rankins.html

Law School Rankings, Legal Education | Permalink

Comments

Luckily, Pepperdine has effectively publicized its true ranking for this year. But the flacid claim by the US News bureaucrat that the school had already certified its numbers is the typical mid-level hack answer from a drone. Yes, they were verified and then later discovered to be in error. How could that ever happen (sarcasm)?

Posted by: Robert Steinbuch | Mar 21, 2018 8:30:25 AM

The other thing that's crazy is that Pepperdine's error was obvious to anyone with a pulse that would have taken a look. The median LSAT for full-time students was X and there were zero part-time students. So how could the median LSAT for all students possibly be X + 2. It's like when certain private schools were reporting their one year student debt numbers, instead of the total law school debt, and US News would report them as the schools with the lowest debt even though again anyone with a pulse would have realized that the reporting schools made a mistake--and this would happen year after year after year. Bob Morse is the Ron Burgundy of rankers--he will read anything on the teleprompter. And when I say anything, I mean anything.

Posted by: Gregg Polsky | Mar 21, 2018 11:05:07 AM

The message from US News to all colleges is: If you discover an error, don't tell us. We are too lazy to update our work. We just don't want to hear about it.

Omitting Pepperdine from the list made it less accurate than assigning Pepperdine a slightly incorrect rank.

Pepperdine can be proud of its actions, but US News should be ashamed.

Posted by: AMTbuff | Mar 21, 2018 11:30:44 AM

Paul - Maybe this is an opportunity to bust up the USNWR monopoly. Pepperdine might do just as well or better without the ranking. Others might follow.

Posted by: Steve Diamond | Mar 22, 2018 5:30:03 PM