Deans Clash on Rankings Boycott

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07/28/08

Deans Clash on Rankings Boycott
Tulane University Law Dean Ponoroff is resigned about Law School Rankings.
Competition over the rankings is intense, and many law school deans have attempted to buoy up their rankings in some fashion. One tactic has been to cut the number of students accepted in the first year classes while increasing part-time attendance, such as those in joint JD programs as well as those who take classes at night. This also has the benefit of providing legal education to those with careers or who otherwise cannot take classes during the traditional time.

When US News announced that they are considering changing how they rank part-time students — pooling those student test scores with the full time students' — many law schools raised quite the furor over it.

According to US News, some schools apparently move lower testing students into their part-time programs so as not to impact their rankings. Thus, "one way to prevent gaming of the system is to count [grade and test data of] all students,'' according to Robert Morse. Morse is the director of data research for US News.

Several law school deans have opposed this change, saying that their ranking by US News is so important that they might have to drop part-time programs rather than slip in the rankings. The dean of Case Western Reserve University Law School, Gary J. Simson, called for a boycott by law schools of the US News rankings.

US News gets much of their information directly from the law schools themselves, so this boycott would be designed to cut off access to that data, in theory rendering the US News rankings pointless.

Several deans have agreed on the need to cut down the importance of the rankings, but many state they aren't sure how. The idea of getting rid of the rankings "is whistling in the wind," said Lawrence Ponoroff, dean of Tulane University Law School. Tulane was No. 44 in U.S. News' 2008 rankings of the 184 accredited law schools in the nation.

Why the disconnect? If rankings are so important to the job prospects of the students of those schools, why the resignation and acceptance of a flawed system?

The answer lies in the US News methodology. While law schools provide much of the information, US News gets lots of information from required disclosures to the American Bar Association. If the law schools don't cough up the information, the reliance on the ABA information will increase, leading to even more perceived errors. Law schools cannot prevent anyone from accessing the data from the ABA.

What the boycott would get rid of would be the "reputation" component of the rankings, which in theory ask law professors and deans to rank other schools. That most likely means more gaming of the ABA numbers to influence the rankings.

Simson, the Dean at Case Western, argues that without the deans' participation, the rankings will crumble by causing others to not provide the requested information.

Bob Morse from US News disagrees, taking the understandable view that his process is fair and not flawed, and that a dean boycott would have little impact.

Regardless of the eventual outcome of this, students in lower ranked schools hope the rankings crumble, leading to greater access to legal jobs for them.

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