Improving the US News Rankings: A Wish List
posted by Daniel Solove
A new article in the ABA Journal profiles Bob Morse, the US News & World Report “rankings czar.” I recently corresponded with Bob when he wrote to me about my parody of the rankings. He took my humor in good spirit. According to the ABA Journal article:
Since it began the rankings in 1987, the magazine is often attacked as wielding too much power; its methodology is denounced as easily manipulated and too subjective to carry such inordinate weight.
No one understands this more than Robert Morse, the man who created the law school rankings for U.S. News. As the magazine’s data research director, Morse says he, too, feels a high level of anxiety each year when the law school rankings are revealed. . . .
He also feels the heat from those who resent their enduring influence. For a ratings czar, he is a very reluctant despot. Far from being impervious to complaint, he maintains a blog where he explains his rankings and encourages constructive criticism. He’s been known to show up unannounced at gatherings likely to denounce him.
The article goes on to note that Bob Morse is open to suggestions for improving the rankings:
Morse says he understands and agrees that the rankings are not perfect, and he would like nothing more than to discuss with law school deans ways to improve them.
“Deans are welcome to call me or come by my office in Washington,” Morse says. “I want to work with them to improve the rankings.”
For better or worse, the US News rankings are here to stay. They are tremendously influential, and despite our constant complaints, I doubt that the influence of the rankings will diminish. So we can continue to gripe and grumble, with probably little effect. Or, we might be to work with the magazine to improve the rankings. Bob says he’s amenable to suggestions for improvement:
Bob Morse has his own blog that invites comments and criticisms. He’s shown up uninvited to university symposiums dedicated to fighting the U.S. News rankings he created. He wants to hear what the critics have to say.
So since Bob is listening, I pose the question: How ought the rankings to be improved?
The current US News methodology is here.
Here are a few things I’d recommend:
1. The reputation surveys are not sent out broadly enough. They go out only to deans and to newly-tenured professors. A broader cross-section of law school faculties should be used in the poll.
2. A more granular reputation scoring system should be used. The current 1-5 score isn’t granular enough. For starters, how do top schools like Yale and Harvard have average scores less than 5. Who’s giving them a score of 4? Seems fishy to me. Suppose a dean thinks Yale is the best and that Chicago is excellent — not quite as good as Yale, but very close. Yale therefore gets a 5. Does that mean Chicago gets a 4? That’s a big drop. Giving Chicago a 5 says it is equal, which may not be the dean’s view. There’s a problem here — the scale isn’t granular enough.
3. The number of library volumes shouldn’t be a part of the scoring system. This strikes me as a silly factor in ranking law schools.
These are just a few ideas. What are yours? The purpose of this thread is not to gripe about the rankings, but to propose fixes and improvements, so please focus your comments on suggestions for reforming the US News rankings.