Monday, March 31, 2008

Law School Rankings
The Daily's Take

An earlier post on this topic has appeared.

USNews Law School Rankings - U Slips
Live by the sword, die by the sword?

Today the Daily reports:

after spending the past 12 years in the U.S. News & World Report's top 20, the University's Law School dropped from 20 to 22, according to rankings released Friday.

David Wippman, dean elect of the law school, said the factors of the drop in rank were mainly technical; for example, the LSAT scores of the entering class.

"It took (the ranking) down a little bit," he said. "We are looking at how to address those factors so that we can reverse that decline, but more importantly we're really focused on continuing to build the quality of the law school, overall."

For the past two years, leadership at the University has been in limbo after the 2006 resignation of former dean Alex Johnson, who had a year left on his contract. Wippman is scheduled to officially begin his position in July.

Third-year law student Bree Richards said the lack of a stable dean could be a reason for the drop in ranking.

"It's not surprising," she said. "We haven't had one dean for how many years now? I don't think we are admitting stupider students or anything like that."

Pre-law senior Libby Smith, president of the pre-law society, said she used the rankings when she looked at law schools.

"I think rankings are a good place to start if somebody is wanting to kind of get an idea of what types of schools will allow them to seek jobs nationally versus schools that are more focused with alumni in the region," she said.

To reclaim the University's top 20 status, Wippman said he will look at how to improve the U.S. News & World Report factors, but he doesn't want to over-emphasize their importance.

"I think we have to have our own assessment of what makes a quality law school and quality legal education," he said, "and really need to maintain our focus on keeping and maintaining that quality as we define and understand it."


We have to use a little common sense with respect to "ambitious aspirations to become one of the top three research universities in the world [sic]."

We also - Tom, Bob? - have to decide whether ratings matter. Mixed messages continue to be sent out on this point.

Iowa also took a hit in the rankings. [The previous sentence has been modified to reflect a comment below.] Some believe that this is because their LSAT scores also went down as a byproduct of a commitment to diversity. Playing the ratings game can be a two-edged sword. Public law schools in general are at a big disadvantage because money talks.

I am amused by the fact that some departments here at the U of M, including the med school for all I know, believe that if they keep up the grades and scores for admission that somehow this will help them in the rankings. Pretty arbitrary basement figures are set up. Below a GPA of x.xx the applicant simply won't be admitted.

Personally, I know two cases where I had to argue most strenuously - and in one case unsuccessfully - for the admission of a student who had less than stellar grades or scores. Both of those people went on to do very well in graduate school and professionally.

But of course this takes a little bit of backbone and judgment and a refusal to kowtow to rankings...

Tom? Bob?



Anonymous said...

Iowa took no bigger a hit than UMN in the USN&WR law school rankings. Iowa went from 25 to 27, which is the same ordinal distance down as UMN's fall from 20 to 22.

The trouble, of course, is that each of these schools fell below a threshold defined by some multiple of 5. UMN can no longer call itself a "top 20" school, and Iowa fell out of the "top 25."

You've never spoken truer words than these:

"Live by the sword, die by the sword."

That's why smart law school deans -- think of states far, far away from BigU -- have said absolutely nothing about the rankings.

Best wishes,

Mr. B. said...


You are of course correct about the fact that Iowa slipped no more than the U.

What was curious, though, is the reaction of folks at Iowa over the slippage. They went crazy posting at the usual places and somehow seemed to tie decline in LSAT scores to increase in diversity.

And I agree that smart deans will keep their mouths shut about the rankings. They will concentrate on well-trained students and productive faculty. They will play good poker with the cards they've got.

As the motto of an old Berkeley chem prof goes: "He came to the ball park every day, and every day he came to play."