Rankings influence schools

December 3, 2009
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A new report says law schools are greatly influenced by the annual rankings released by U.S. News & World Report.

I didn’t need a report to tell me that. What I did need the report to tell me was how influential the U.S. News & World Report’s rankings are. According to the research report, “Fear of Falling: The Effect of U.S. News & World Report Rankings on U.S. Law Schools,” pressure to move up in the rankings influences the way law schools allocate money, categorize students, and hire deans. Faculty members and administrators describe a drop in ranks as “demoralizing” and “devastating,” the report says.

In fact, the majority who responded had a negative view of the rankings and felt they were more harmful than beneficial. Yet, schools are still trying to improve their rankings.

Some schools allocate more money to merit-based scholarships instead of need-based so they attract students with higher LSAT scores. Some admitted to hiring recent graduates on a temporary basis so that they could be considered employed for the survey. Some categorized students as part-time or probationary so their LSAT scores wouldn’t count. I don’t know if U.S. News & World Report caught on to that, but just last year, it changed the methodology to include part-time students in its analysis.

Surprised? I initially was, but now I think it makes sense that schools would try to manipulate the results of their ranking.

Law schools on the list get free publicity and can tout their high rankings in recruiting material or justify tuition or budget increases. Those who don’t rank so high are quick to complain about the survey’s methodology or say the rankings don’t matter. They know that students use these rankings when picking schools. According to the report, prospective law students interviewed said the rankings were the biggest influence on which schools they applied to.

Take Indiana University School of Law – Indianapolis as an example. A quick search on its Web site reveals press releases each time the rankings are released. Just last year, when the school jumped nearly 20 spots, it issued a press release about it and how it expected to continue to rise in the rankings.

Cut to this year when IU – Indy fell back nearly 20 spots. I couldn’t find the press release mentioning this, but Dean Gary Roberts had released a statement in April blaming the change in methodology on the school’s drop.

Rankings are important to educational programs of all kinds because kids want to go to highly ranked schools. IU – Indy is currently promoting its “Super Lawyer” law school ranking on its home page.

Indiana University in Bloomington also issues press releases when the rankings come out, although the school tends to emphasize the rankings of all its graduate programs, not just the law school. I couldn’t find any on Notre Dame’s law school Web site, and the press releases I found on Valparaiso University’s Web site touted their rankings of graduate programs but not the law school. (That could be because it’s consistently ranked as a Tier 4 school, where schools are just listed alphabetically.)

The report was released by the Law School Admission Council and conducted by two sociology professors. You can read more about it on the LSCA’s Web site under "Research reports." Interestingly enough, the authors also studied business school rankings for a comparison, but because there are more rankings released by various sources, the business schools’ reputation sand operations were not as affected as the law schools were.
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  2. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  3. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

  4. Diversity is important, but with some limitations. For instance, diversity of experience is a great thing that can be very helpful in certain jobs or roles. Diversity of skin color is never important, ever, under any circumstance. To think that skin color changes one single thing about a person is patently racist and offensive. Likewise, diversity of values is useless. Some values are better than others. In the case of a supreme court justice, I actually think diversity is unimportant. The justices are not to impose their own beliefs on rulings, but need to apply the law to the facts in an objective manner.

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