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U.S. News to Step Up Efforts to Stop Law Schools From Gaming the Rankings

We've posted previously, here and here on some of the controversy and criticism surrounding the U.S. News and World Report Law School Rankings, in particular, the system's susceptibility to manipulation.  Today, the Wall Street Journal reports that U.S. News is taking steps to crack down on those schools that attempt to game the rankings system by  channeling lower-scoring applicants into part-time programs that don't count as part of the rankings. U.S. News has proposed to include statistics on part-time students in its ranking system, which could lower the rankings of many schools which currently set up less selective part-time programs to generate additional revenues without compromising their status the U.S. News survey.

The U.S. News proposal is controversial.  Some say that changing the criteria may punish part-time programs or deter some schools from offering them, to the detriment of the student population -- often minorities or second careerists -- whom part-time programs have long served. 

Schools that have "gamed" the rankings system in the past are unapologetic.  The article offers the example of Phillip Closius, dean of University of Baltimore Law School, which elevated its rank to 125 from 170 by cutting the number of full-time students and adding more part-timers.  Says Closius:

U.S. News is not a moral code, it's a set of seriously flawed rules of a magazine, and I follow the rules...without hiding anything.

Just as a Closius' ability to improve rankings made him a hero, deans who fail to take rankings seriously may find themselves the goat.  Nancy Rapoport, dean of the University of Houston Law Center, resigned after the school fell to 70th from 50th in the span of a few years. (Rapoport now teaches at UNLV and discusses the circumstances surrounding her resignation and the ratings in this blog post.

So what do law professors have to say about all of this?  Neither Professor Lipshaw at Legal Profession Blog nor Professor Ribstein at Idealawg is terribly troubled by law firms gaming the rankings system because, as Ribstein points out, the rankings aren't a "moral code."  But Professor John Steele at Legal Ethics Blog wonders whether by gaming the rankings, schools are effectively teaching students, by example, to "cook the books."

Finally, David Bernstein at Volokh offers the best solution:  ranking part time programs separately since the criterion for admission and credentials of most part-time students are so different from those in full-time programs.

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on August 26, 2008 at 12:48 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)


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