University of Michigan law school boycotts US News & World Report rankings

ANN ARBOR – Michigan Law will no longer participate in US News & World Report’s annual law school rankings.

The announcement was made by Michigan Law Dean Mark West in a message to the school community on Sunday.

“After speaking to students, faculty, alumni and staff, I have decided that it no longer makes sense for Michigan Law to participate in US News & World Report’s law school ranking process,” West wrote. “As a public institution, serving the public interest has always been central to our mission. Over time, I have come to believe that US News Law School rankings no longer serve the public interest.”

West said Michigan is following in the footsteps of other schools, including Yale Law School, that have dropped from the rankings.

He said US News’ rankings initially provided valuable information for consumers, particularly students, that was not widely available. Now, West said, consumer information data is plentiful.

“For example, after the Great Recession of 2008, the American Bar Association increased the amount of consumer information data that law schools are required to collect and report,” West wrote. “This information increases transparency dramatically and admirably: it is available free of charge and reflects an informed reflection on what information is most important and relevant.

“In contrast, US News has initiated a series of changes in recent years that reflect a lack of understanding of how law schools operate, leading to questions about US News’ ability to continue to serve as a large-scale arbiter of higher education information.” .”

He added that US news rankings are “opaque” in both content and methodology, as data is hidden from the public.

He explained that US News bases its rankings on a number of specific metrics that the media company considers important.

Academic opinion polls are the most heavily weighted component of the ranking, said West, who added that polls of select faculty members and administrators at any law school should not influence prospective student decision-making.

He adds that he is concerned about the “opacity” of the algorithm, as he believes changes to the formula are either announced after the fact or not announced at all.

“What we know about the algorithm is that a lot of it has nothing to do with the needs of future students, which are naturally heterogeneous,” he wrote. “Additionally, US News does not verify or authenticate the data. This situation represents at best an unfair representation of data and at worst an unregulated opportunity for manipulation.”

Read West’s full letter below:

Dear Michigan Law Community,

After discussions with students, faculty, alumni, and staff, I have decided that it no longer makes sense for Michigan Law to participate in the US News & World Report Law School ranking process. As a public body, serving the public interest has always been at the heart of our mission. Over time, I’ve come to believe that US News Law School rankings no longer serve the public interest. Although we have had ongoing discussions on Quad for years about breaking away from the leaderboard, it would have been difficult for us to take that step alone. I applaud Yale Law School (and Dean Heather Gerken, Michigan Law, 1994) for being the first initiative and share the concerns expressed by Yale and other schools that have withdrawn.

A little history is instructive as to why it is appropriate to make this decision now. Initially, US News’ law school rankings provided valuable information for consumers — particularly students — that was not previously widely available. That is no longer true; Many other consumer information resources are available today. For example, after the Great Recession of 2008, the American Bar Association increased the amount of consumer information data that law schools must collect and report. This information increases transparency in a dramatic and admirable way: it is freely available and reflects informed thinking about what information is most important and relevant. In contrast, US News has initiated a series of changes in recent years that reflect a lack of understanding of how law schools operate, leading to questions about US News’ ability to continue serving as a large-scale arbiter of information about higher education to serve . Finally, US news rankings are opaque in both methodology and content (much of the data is not disclosed publicly) and is unavailable to those uninterested in paying to examine it. Despite the availability of these other more transparent sources, US News Law Schools rankings have played an outsized role in the perception of the quality of law schools that many have.

The ranking process is complex, with features and quirks too detailed to go through here, but the basics are as follows. US News collects information from law schools related to a variety of very specific metrics that it believes are important. The most heavily weighted component of the ranking comes from academic opinion polls: US News polls select administrators and faculty members at each law school to collect their opinions on their perception of each other law school’s reputation. The information gathered may be interesting, but it is not based on any rigorous survey tool, and even if it were, it should not guide decision-making for prospective students (or others). Still, law schools are sometimes more or less forced to consider the impact of changes in their programs on their rank. While Michigan has consistently resisted pressure to take action contrary to our mission, the demands of the US intelligence algorithm always lurk in the background.

The opacity of the algorithm for both law schools and consumers also worries me. Changes to the formula are often announced after the fact or are simply never explained. What we do know about the algorithm is that much of it has nothing to do with the needs of future students, which are of course heterogeneous. In addition, US News does not audit or authenticate the data. This situation represents, at best, an unfair representation of data and, at worst, an unregulated opportunity for manipulation. If a law school wants to see the full set of aggregated data that others are submitting, it must pay US News to access it. The staff time required to prepare our application also comes with a cost – both financial and in terms of capability – that no public body serving a revenue-generating project for a third party should shoulder.

I recognize, of course, that US News and other organizations will continue to rank law schools, and that our grading may vary due to differences in methodology. Doesn’t matter. We will continue to focus on providing the best possible legal education and supporting our community – including especially the human-centric factors that rankings have a hard time measuring. We do not anticipate that this decision will result in any changes in the way we administer admissions and financial aid that would adversely affect our current and prospective students. We remain committed to supporting the career goals of our students—and particularly the goals of our students pursuing careers of public interest—by investing in postgraduate scholarships and assisting with loan repayments. We are also committed to continuing to provide robust, meaningful information to help prospective students decide whether to attend Michigan Law.

sincerely,

Mark D West

David A. Breach Dean of Law and Nippon Life Professor of Law

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