October 15, 2008
A Rant About US News Law School Rankings
Having seen Wicked the other night, I'm inspired by some analogies.
First, the USNews rankings are like the Wizard of Oz himself: if you peak behind the curtain, there's not much there. Why do I say that? I just filled out the form ranking all the law schools. (Why me? I'm the most recently tenured faculty member here at Mercer, and so they send it to me, along wih the dean, associate dean, and presumably some others). This form is what they tally up (along with similar forms from judges and practicing lawyers) to come up with the rankings. Here's what it consists of: a list of the 180 or so law schools, with a box next to each one, ranging from 5 (outstanding) to 1 (marginal) and a zero for I don't know. No site visits, etc. Now, they do gather some objective statistics -- how many books are in the library; how many students apply versus how many are accepted, etc., average lsat scores, etc., -- but these reputational scores count for a lot, and consist of this little 1-to-5 chart.
But, they're also like the Wizard of Oz in other ways: most people don't know what's behind the curtain, and so there's a lot of power. Students make choices based upon these rankings; decisions about how many students to accept are based upon rankings (lsat 75th and 25th percentiles matter, for example); and about who gets scholarships (if you want your LSAT to go higher, you target lsat numbers that are "high' for your school, rather than students who may bring diversity or other good aspects to a school, for example).
And, imho, they're a lot like the wicked witch. You have no idea what a racket this thing has become. Some schools, for example, have made students with low lsat scores start as "part time" students, so their scores don't have to be reported. Other schools have small first year classes (their scores, only, count), but then bring in huge numbers of transfers, to get revenue up without affecting their "scores." That's only a part of it.
No, I don't have anything better to suggest. But what we have is broke and needs a fixin'.
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