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March 29, 2008

Now For Something Completely Different

US News ranks law schools, other professional schools, and undergraduate universities. The ranking system is, rightly or wrongly, taken by students -- customers -- to be important. Thus, rightly or wrongly (and many, including Brian Leiter think wrongly), it affects what those institutions do: there is a famous story, for example, of Nancy Rapoport's deanship at University of Houston Law Center ending in large part because of UH's "fall" in the rankings.

Mercer, my institution, has hovered between 100 and 90 for the past five years. I obviously think we deserve a better place in the system, but what I want to point out is the critical distortion that the rankings system creates at the 100th place: the top 100 schools are ranked one to one hundred by "score," but after 100... they get ranked in two groups in "tiers" by name only, without a score. So, a school that falls only from 100 to 101 may fall 50 "places."

So, you know that schools just "below" 100 are doing everything they can to affect their score upward, while those in the 90's are doing everything they can to distort their score, too. No one wants to fall from the top, ranked tier to the bottom, unranked, two tiers.

Anyhow, the whole thing is odd to me, since I don't believe that a school can be distilled down to a number, but the distortion that the system causes -- what US News includes that a school can affect will matter more than it perhaps should to the school -- is particularly amplified by the 1-100 then "two tier" system.

And now we return to your regularly scheduled broadcast...

March 29, 2008 in Current Affairs | Permalink


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