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GU Law school joins others withdrawing from U.S. News & World Report rankings

Gonzaga University School Dean Jacob Rooksby kicks off a panel discussion during a continuous learning education symposium on Nov. 5, 2021, at the Gonzaga University Law School.  (DAN PELLE/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

Gonzaga University School of Law won’t participate this year in U.S. News and World Report’s annual ranking of law schools, its dean Jacob Rooksby said Wednesday.

The move isn’t singular. Since November, a number of law schools, including Yale and Harvard, have made the call that they won’t submit data this year to the magazine to receive a ranking. Deans who have opted to take their schools out of the ranking have said some of the measures used by U.S. New are arbitrary and rely too much on peer reputation surveys.

But Gonzaga University for its undergraduate studies will continue to participate in the magazine’s ranking, also a pattern among other schools. Academic leaders have said the undergraduate schools’ metrics differ, and the graduate programs have made the decisions independently. Recently, a few medical schools such as Harvard’s have joined the revolt.

Seattle University School of Law this week also announced it won’t participate in the rankings. Gonzaga and Seattle universities tied in the most recent U.S. News law school ranking at No. 116 out of 192 law schools. The University of Washington was ranked No. 47, and the University of Idaho was ranked No. 142.

“I think it’s safe to say that all of us who work in legal education have had some real misgivings about the U.S. News & World Report’s rankings for many, many years, and starting in November some very top schools like Harvard and Yale announced that they would not provide data to U.S. News in light of these long-standing concerns,” Rooksby said.

U.S. News has published its rankings for decades, but it has faced growing criticism regarding the data used for graduate programs. Meanwhile, the magazine’s leaders say the work serves as an influential guide for students and their parents during the college selection process.

A magazine official said in a prepared response that the publication is working with law schools on changes.

“U.S. News & World Report and its journalists have an important job – to inform the public, to hold powerful institutions accountable and to foster a free and fair exchange of ideas,” said Kim Castro, editor and chief content officer for U.S. News. “In the past few weeks, U.S. News has engaged more than 100 deans and representatives of law schools as part of our review of our Best Law Schools ranking.

“We listened to their recent feedback and are developing ways to be responsive, while maintaining our independence, mission, and purpose. Based on those discussions, our own research and our iterative rankings review process, we are making a series of modifications in this year’s rankings that reflect those inputs and allow us to publish the best available data.”

Among concerns about the law schools’ rankings, Rooksby said, is that there is undue reliance on the Law School Admission Test median score and median student GPA. Other considerations are metrics such as bar passage rates and graduate employment rates, also important to the school, he said.

“But the devil’s in the details, and certain types of employment were not permitted to count for purposes of the U.S. News data they require,” he said.

If law school graduates decide to take a job in social work, do a fellowship or become a member of the clergy, they can’t be counted in the law school’s employment measures, he said.

“There are a whole bunch of characteristics and attributes of our student body and faculty that we think are really important that do not factor at all into the ranking – first-generation student status, average median household income for folks coming into law school, the diversity of the faculty and the student body – these do not make it into the ranking system as currently constituted.

“Even speaking more broadly, I think just the notion of a ranking system for law schools is emblematic of a very hierarchical view of legal education, of the law profession, of the world that is really inconsistent with our values and where we are in 2023 as a Jesuit Catholic institution of higher learning that is driven to support the whole person and walk with students alongside them in their journey to become lawyers.”

He was among other deans who met with officials from U.S. News in January at an American Association of Law Schools conference, and they discussed changes. But so far, Rooksby said, magazine leaders haven’t shared specifics on how the rankings will change.

“Until we have a better sense of what that entails, I didn’t feel it was appropriate to participate in this system this year. Certainly, we’re open to understanding what the modifications are, and do they lead to actual improvement, or is it more just slight variations on what we’ve seen.”

Rooksby said the ranking doesn’t consider regional differences and that most law schools attract and educate students who want to be attorneys in their communities. Peer assessments go to different law school deans, faculty, community judges and practicing attorneys. Schools spend money on promotional materials these members might see to rank law schools nationally.

He questioned how peer assessments can include well-formed opinions when the U.S. has about 200 accredited law schools. The process also has asked for many years how much money is spent per student, he said. “This has really incentivized the schools to either charge more tuition, or spend more money on students, or both, or admit fewer.”

Other ranking system concerns are significant, he added.

“They reward law schools for investments that have little to do with improving educational outcomes, value arbitrary measures of quality, utilize imprecise variables as markers for excellence and reinforce structural inequality in the legal profession.”

Around these concerns, he co-authored a Dec. 12 Seattle Times op-ed piece with University of Idaho College of Law Dean Johanna Kalb and Willamette University College of Law Dean Brian Gallini.

Prospective students still can find data on law schools , Rooksby said, from sources including the posting of American Bar Association disclosures on websites, the schools individually providing information with an interest in being transparent to visiting students and third-party organizations such as the Law School Admission Council.

Another U.S. News & World Report official, executive chairman and CEO Eric Gertler, said there is a common interest.

“While we know it is challenging for diverse institutions to be ranked across a common data set, we all have the same goal – to provide the best information to prospective students so they can make one of the most important decisions of their careers,” he said.