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Tuesday, June 18, 2024
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UW Law School finds U.S. News Rankings at odds with their values, opts out

The U.S. News rankings’ metrics do not make room for world-class legal education at an affordable price, the UW Law School Dean said.

The University of Wisconsin Law School opted out of this year's U.S. News and World Report survey on Jan. 26 due to its prioritization of ranking metrics which do not align with the school's values, according to UW Law School Dean Daniel Tokaji.

"The UW Law School values providing a world-class legal education at an affordable price so that we are accessible to everyone that has the capacity to become a great lawyer and leader," Tokaji said. 

The current metrics incentivize schools to spend money in ways that neither improve the quality of legal education nor ensure access for everyone, explained Dean Tokaji.

Student debt is one aspect not considered in the metrics, making it so that students are unable to weigh the potential cost of a specific law school. Tokaji noted that this leads to less accessibility for all law students and explained how UW Law School values providing an affordable education to students, which goes unnoticed in the rankings due to the absence of this metric. 

The U.S. News and World Report rankings measure median LSAT and median GPA, which Tokaji said is also problematic. It ultimately incentivizes schools to spend a large portion of their scholarship money in an attempt to bring in students who hit specific median numbers, an example of spending money in ways that don't align with UW Law School's values, he said. 

“That incentivizes schools to spend a lot of their scholarship money trying to bring in people who hit those median numbers,” said Tokaji. 

A survey sent to various law school administrators, lawyers and judges is another way law schools across the country spend money to achieve a higher rank by the U.S. News and World ranking. Tokaji said the survey asks recipients to rank all the law schools in the country on a one to five scale with respondents having little knowledge of most of these law schools. Ultimately, this metric encourages law schools to spend money on advertising to their peer schools, which removes spending on education and accessibility for students. 

The state of Wisconsin has "diploma privilege," which allows law school graduates to obtain a license to practice law in Wisconsin without taking the bar exam so they can make a salary while studying. 

"The rankings undervalue this privilege which ensures that UW graduates, at least in the past couple of years, have had a 100% bar admission rate," Tokaji said.

Tokaji further explained that UW Law School administration had conversations with many community members, such as students, faculty and alumni when deciding not to participate in the survey. He noted that since the decision was made, reactions within the community have been overwhelmingly positive, with only two adverse responses from alums. 

UW Law School is one of many law schools to remove themselves from the rankings. Yale Law School, previously ranked number one, was the first law school to step back from the rankings. UCLA School of Law, Harvard Law School, Columbia Law School and the University of Michigan Law School have also joined UW and Yale in boycotting the rankings.

Tokaji emphasized that perfection is impossible, but he would like to see changes in metrics pertaining to the following: student debt, median LSAT and GPA, peer survey assessments and bar admission measurements.

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The last necessary change is to make the survey information available to students free of cost, he said. This must happen before UW Law School decides to participate in the survey for the U.S. News and World Reports rankings again, Tokaji said.

U.S. News and World Report will continue to rank schools that do not participate, but will exclusively use publicly available data. In contrast, the rankings from schools participating will be more detailed.  

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