Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Am I the poster child for why the USNWR rankings are bad?

There I was this morning, happily posting a blog about shared governance on my own site, when I noticed the TaxProf Blog about the National Jurist's cover story on the rankings. Then I read the first paragraph (the part about my resignation).

To the extent that I've become the poster child for how schools can use the USNWR rankings for other ends, so be it. (I could live without yet another reporter who wasn't at the meeting describing what it was like; for another take on the meeting, see this article, which is no longer on the Houston Chronicle's website.) Footnote 56 of Not Quite “Them,” Not Quite “Us”: Why It’s Difficult for Former Deans to Go Home Again gives a rather more complete description of what prompted my resignation.

The point is that the USNWR rankings can be used for all sorts of reasons, as the recent AALS Workshop on the Ratings Game indicated. They can be used to provide imperfect information for prospective students and prospective faculty candidates. They can be used as an imperfect way of benchmarking, as Andy Morris & Bill Henderson ably demonstrate in Measuring Outcomes: Post-Graduation Measures of Success in the U.S. News & World Report Law School Rankings. They can be used--in much the same way that first-year law students use first-semester grades--as an artificial way of measuring relative strengths, with those schools and students receiving low grades tending to feel worse about themselves than they should. (Those tiny and irrelevant differences among schools within any given cluster remind me of Ellen DeGeneres's bit about the difference between airline seats in their upright position and in their reclined position.) And they can be used as surrogates for other motives.

Poster child for improper use of the USNWR rankings? Sure, as long as people learn the appropriate lesson: using the USNWR rankings as the sole justification for any serious decision about law school policy leads to all sorts of collateral consequences.

5 Comments:

Blogger Jeff Harrison said...

Everytime I see another article about your departure I wonder if the faculty leaders of the uprising examined their own activities to see how much their productivity or lack of it contributed to the decline. But mainly I am really discouraged by the way they and the students legitimized a deeply flawed process.

1/16/2007 12:15 PM  
Blogger Nancy Rapoport said...

Thanks, Jeff! I was more discouraged by the fact that they brought students into the fray at all and by the silence of their colleagues about the lack of civil discourse. Ah, well....

To the extent that things happen for a reason, I'm moving on, going to a school that I find very exciting, writing up a storm, and generally enjoying life more than I did during the last few years. And I think that there are good people at UHLC who will take the lessons of last year and make the place better. At least, I hope that they will.

1/16/2007 3:09 PM  
Blogger Anthony Ciolli said...

I think it's pretty funny that the Houston students and faculty involved in this fiasco likely caused a lot more damage to the school's national reputation than a falling U.S. News rank ever could. For the near future Houston's going to be known as "that school where students and faculty demanded that their dean resign because U.S. News rank fell a little bit," even if the rankings drop was only one disagreement out of many and wasn't the actual cause of the resignation.

1/16/2007 3:49 PM  
Anonymous approachingreality said...

Hi Professor,

I just can't help but agree with you that it is unwise to base one's entire perception of law school based on a silly ranking by USNWR. Unfortunately though, for many in both the legal community and outside it, USNWR is the best way they can judge a law school.

When researching law schools, I must admit, I used USNWR, but I also considered many other things -- namely, what would truly make me happy. I'm not talking about money or material things of that sort, but what grounded me as an individual.

However, I suppose I should temper my opinion because I am constantly reminded that the more I know, the more I don't know.

Anyways, I do hope you are feeling better and I assume the best way to move on is to live a good life.

--1L

1/19/2007 7:39 PM  
Anonymous William Devine II said...

Prof. Rapoport,
I for one will welcome you to UNLV's William S. Boyd School of Law. It was sad to hear about Prof. Lawless' departure to Univ of Illinois, his post-BAPCPA bankruptcy class was one of the best law courses I have taken, and I had planned to take his mergers & acquisitions course as well. Fortunately, beginning in Fall 2007, I know that the school will have a highly qualified bankruptcy and business oriented professor to take his place. I have to admit, the announcement of your hiring seemed rather near to Dean Morgan's retirement announcement, which I had inferred the obvious, incorrectly though.

Boyd also has an evening program, and has faltered in the ranks for various reasons, some of which has been blamed on the evening program, mirroring some opinions on UHLC. Previously I had read about the faculty 'issues' with the ranking at UHLC and the person which the faculty blamed. I cannot help but feel their actions have harmed the reputation of UHLC even if it might improve their USNWR ranking.
Two good things came out of it; first, Boyd gets a professor with an amazing professional and academic background; and two, I turned down UHLC to move to Las Vegas and attend Boyd and my future degree just became that much more valuable because of it.

Even though Fall 2007 will be my last semester at Boyd (dual JD/MBA extended my stay a little), I look forward to seeing you here. Maybe a Mergers & Acquisitions course, or even a 'Dancing for Law Students' are in Boyd's horizons...

William Devine, II
Boyd 3L

1/31/2007 4:57 PM  

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