Paul L. Caron

Saturday, April 22, 2023

NY Times: Rankings Schadenfreude — Elite Law Schools Boycotted U.S. News But Now May Be Paying A Price

New York Times, Elite Law Schools Boycotted the U.S. News Rankings. Now, They May Be Paying a Price.:

US News (2023)It may be a case of be careful what you wish for.

Seven months ago, dozens of elite law schools and medical schools announced that they were boycotting the U.S. News & World Report rankings and refusing to give the publication any data. The rankings, they said, were unreliable and skewed educational priorities.

Last week, U.S. News previewed its first rankings since the boycott — for the top dozen or so law and medical schools only — and now, it seems, many of these same schools care quite a lot about their portrayal in the publication’s pecking order.

In fact, their complaints about the methodology were so forceful that U.S. News announced on Wednesday that it had indefinitely postponed the ranking’s official publication. ...

This latest skirmish — which comes as students are committing themselves to schools, often with U.S. News as a guide — demonstrates that even a boycott enveloped in the ivy of Yale and Harvard may be no match for the influence of the U.S. News rankings system.

Yale exited in November, followed shortly thereafter by Harvard, Stanford, Georgetown, Columbia and the University of California, Berkeley, among others. Harvard was the first medical school to depart, followed by schools like Columbia and the University of Pennsylvania.

Facing a revolt, U.S. News went on a listening tour of more than 100 schools and conducted what it said was the most significant revision of its methodology ever. To fill in the missing data from boycotting schools, it used public numbers from sources like the American Bar Association.

When the rankings preview was released, not much changed. Yale Law School was still No. 1 (though now tied with Stanford). U.C.L.A’s law school bumped Georgetown out of the “Top 14.” Harvard Medical School dropped to No. 3 from No. 1 in the research ranking, replaced in the top spot by Johns Hopkins.

But boycotting schools were still upset over some of the data, especially the way that U.S. News counted after-graduation employment.

U.S. News had said that it would change its methodology and count students on fellowships as employed, with the caveat that the fellowships were long term and required passage of the bar exam (or, at the very least, that a law degree gave an advantage to the fellowships).

Factoring in the fellowships, Yale expected its employment rate to rise to nearly 100 percent [96.8%] from 90 percent. Instead, it dropped to 80 percent [79.6%], at least from what Yale said it had gathered from hearing about the data through media reports. (Yale said it had not purchased access to the data or been in touch with U.S. News.) ...

The University of California, Berkeley, had similar complaints, saying that students in its joint law and Ph.D. program, who take longer to graduate, were being counted as unemployed.

[As I noted on April 18th, this criticism is incorrect. Although U.S. News for some reason excluded graduates working in law school-funded fellowships and pursuing advanced degrees from the jobs data in the spreadsheet emailed to law school deans, U.S. News included those positions in their calculation of the rankings:

U.S. News could not have used the 79.8% figure because that would have ranked Yale 136th in the jobs metric (before adjustment by U.S. News), which is given a significantly increased weighting this year and thus would have prevented Yale from being tied for #1 in the overall ranking. Instead, U.S. News must have used the 96.8% figure because that would have ranked Yale 12th in jobs and enabled them to be tied for #1 in the overall ranking.

Derek Muller (Iowa) and Mike Spivey also have noted that this criticism is incorrect.]

To some university officials, the dust-up reveals the hypocrisy of the high-minded schools.

Peter B. Rutledge, dean of the University of Georgia law school, which did not boycott the rankings, said that he thought the changes in methodology were a legitimate attempt to incorporate what U.S. News had learned from its listening tour. ...

[I]t appears that the changes in some of those metrics have had unanticipated consequences for some of the elite schools that demanded them.

“When you think about everything else going on in the world, there’s a side of it that sort of looks like a tempest in a teapot,” Mr. Rutledge, the Georgia dean, said. “Then you realize that this is an industry where the incumbents have for 30 years built their model around a relatively predictable and unchanged regimen for how to produce a highly ranked law school.”

Paul Caron, dean of the Pepperdine University Caruso School of Law, which ranked 52nd last year, suggested that the word “boycott” in this context is a kind of gaslighting. In a recent headline on his blog, he noted that U.S. News had again delayed the release of its rankings because of inquiries, “including from schools that are ostensibly boycotting the rankings.”

Washington Post, U.S. News Delays Law and Med School Rankings Amid Questions About Data:

U.S. News & World Report, already under scrutiny for the way it ranks some college programs, is delaying the release of its influential annual list of top law schools and medical schools as it answers “an unprecedented number of inquiries” from schools about the data. ...

[S]ome schools are questioning whether the numbers used in the new rankings are right.

Harvard Law School, Berkeley School of Law and Georgetown Law asked U.S. News in recent days about what appeared to be errors or discrepancies in the data used in the rankings. Much of the concern appears to center on employment-related data, including how the rankings consider law students who continue their studies in other graduate programs. ...

Michelle Day, a spokeswoman for U.S. News, declined to comment on whether there were inaccuracies in the data, referring questions to the statement released Wednesday. The inquiries included requests from law and medical schools to update data submitted after the collection period, according to the publication, and they are working to address the questions quickly.

Prior TaxProf Blog coverage:

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