AUSTIN, Texas — The University of Texas School of Law has requested a correction in the ranking recently assigned it by U.S. News & World Report in its annual evaluation of law schools.
The UT Austin School of Law consistently has been rated as high as fifth, and no lower than 14th, by other efforts at academic rankings: see The Gourman Report, The Insider’s Guide to Law Schools, The National Jurist, the Chicago-Kent Law Review Survey of Faculty Scholarship, the Princeton Review Survey of Student Satisfaction, and Justice Brennan’s 1996 book, Judging the Law Schools. U.S. News, however, dropped Texas from its previous placement of 18th to 29th. This was done despite the fact that the magazine’s own criteria show the UT Austin School of Law as being the 16th most selective in its student body, the 15th in reputation among practitioners and judges, and 14th in reputation among academics.
The key factor in this dramatic decline was the magazine’s method for calculating graduates employed as of Feb. 15, 1997: that 75 percent of those graduates whose employment status is unknown would be presumed — apparently without any empirical basis — to be unemployed. The School of Law had 61 non-reporting graduates (an exceptionally large number). The magazine, without advising UT Austin of the strange disparity generated by this method of calculation, reported the employment rate as 84 percent, which is lower than any other school in the top 50. This figure then was used as a major component of the “Placement Success” rank, which was calculated as 95th, as compared with the magazine’s calculation of 35th for the UT Austin School of Law in the preceding year.
In response, the UT Austin School of Law undertook the time-consuming task of finding and determining the employment status of the 61 “unknowns.” In reality, 78.6 percent were employed according to the magazine¡s criteria, and this is the exact opposite of what U.S. News had assumed.
Using U.S. News’ formula for calculating the percentage of graduates employed, the number was 91.1 percent, rather than the 84 percent assigned by the magazine; a rate comparable to those of the University of Michigan (ranked by U.S. News as number eight), UCLA (ranked by U.S. News as number 17), and clearly consistent with the magazine’s annual placement of Texas among the top 20 law schools in the United States.
Given the potential damage to the law school’s graduates and students, the UT Austin School of Law has requested that the magazine recalculate its rankings in light of these facts. As yet, no response has been received from the magazine.
In a book review in The New Republic of March 9, 1998, Harvard Professor Emeritus Henry Rosovsky comments on ratings, referring to U.S. News & World Reports as “the worst influence.” He laments: “Who would have ever believed that serious colleges and universities (including professional schools…) would — virtually without questioning the shoddy methodology and the crass commercialism — consciously fight to gain a few places on a meaningless list?”
Michael Sharlot, dean of the UT Austin School of Law, said, “We applaud Professor Rosovsky’s good sense and candor, but also recognize, however reluctantly, the tyrannical power exercised by commercial rankings in an age of national competition.”
For additional information, contact Sharlot at (512) 232-1120, or Professor Brian Leiter at (512) 471-5151.