U.S. News Rankings: Garvey Speaks
“We must not lose our identity in chasing a few percentage points,” said Dean Garvey in a written memorandum emailed to the school on Wednesday. The U.S. News rankings “cannot hope to capture the soul of an institution.”
Dean Garvey’s missive highlighted the inner workings of the U.S. News rankings system, listing the criteria used and noting that the schools ranked from 20 to 30 “are very tightly bunched.” The memorandum sought to explain that despite BCLS’s ranking being identical to that of last year, a lot of variation should be expected.
The memorandum sought to focus attention on the goals of “our strategic plan for the University’s capital campaign,” while contending that meeting those goals would correlate to higher U.S. News ranking scores. Those goals include: hiring more faculty and reducing their course load; increasing the size of the LL.M. program and decreasing J.D. class sizes; creating fellowships and increasing scholarship monies; and the already-completed restructuring of the Alumni Association.
Despite the correlation with the U.S. News ranking criteria, the Dean’s memo stated that the “strategic plan is designed with one thought in mind — to make Boston College a better law school.” It remains to be seen how employment rates at graduation and 9 months after may plummet for all law schools this year, and how that will affect future rankings.
Dean Garvey’s memorandum:
From: John Garvey
Date: April 23, 2009
This year’s U.S. News and World Report rankings, just released today, have Boston College Law School ranked 26th, the same position we were in last year. The magazine gave BC a total score of 64, up from 61 last year.
In the U.S. News calculus, the law schools ranked between 20-30 are very tightly bunched. There are 8 schools in the range between 66 and 64 in total score. In other words, a total of 2 points separates us from the schools ranked #20. Schools move pretty frequently within this range (witness Notre Dame, George Washington, and Fordham, which all fell this year; and Illinois, which moved up). This doesn’t mean the schools themselves, or the quality of the education they offer, has changed. When the spread between them is so tight, it’s simply a numbers game.
It is wise not to dwell too obsessively on these numbers. It is better to focus on strengthening our school from within. In the past few years we have put in place a number of measures to do just that. These are long-term initiatives, not quick fixes. They should continue to strengthen us in the eyes of U.S. News, and more importantly, as an institution in the years to come. Most of the initiatives I refer to are based on our strategic plan for the University’s capital campaign, and were formulated with the advice of faculty, staff, students, and alumni. They include the following:
- Hire more faculty. The strategic plan calls for the Law School to add 10 new faculty. We have added several more new people this year: Richard Albert, Paulo Barrozo, Daniel Lyons, and Intisar Rabb. Dan Kanstroom, a long-time clinical professor, will join the tenure-track faculty as well.
- Reduce faculty course load to encourage a greater focus on scholarship.
- Restructure our Alumni Association to increase alumni participation in the school, improve support for alumni and students, help with admissions and career services, and assist our fundraising efforts.
- Create a new online community, BC LawNet, for alumni and students to build better relationships. The new site already has over a thousand alumni users. We are preparing to roll it out for current students as well.
- Create more fellowships and find alternative job opportunities for graduates.
- Build our LL.M. program to bring prestige to the School and lower our J.D. class size.
- Increase our available scholarship money. The generosity of our alumni has allowed us, over the course of the past few years, to begin contributing $1 million annually to scholarship and loan repayment assistance from the Law School Fund. This comes on top of about $5 million in tuition remission.
To understand how these initiatives affect U.S. News, it is important to look at how the rankings are calculated. A number of variables are weighted as a part of a total score. These variables include student-faculty ratio, peer assessment scores (subjective ratings by academics, practicing lawyers, and judges), admissions selectivity, employment rates at graduation and after 9 months, bar passage rate, total expenditures, and library volumes, among others. Our focus is to continue to improve over the long term by implementing the initiatives outlined above. Our strategic plan is designed with one thought in mind – to make Boston College a better law school. It is, though, a not unwelcome side effect that many of the changes should continue to help us in the rankings.
The U.S. News & World Report rankings get more attention than some other systems. But we can point to other measures that also illustrate the success of the course we have embarked on. Princeton Review again rated us among the top 5 schools nationally both in career prospects for our graduates, and for best professors. We are in the top 20 of the Law Schools 100 list. We consistently rank among the most collegial law schools in the country. Our tax, environmental law, clinical, and legal writing programs routinely rate among the nation’s best.
But most importantly, we are a unique community of scholars intent on educating our students to make a difference in the world in whatever career they choose. We must not lose our identity in chasing a few percentage points on a rankings system that cannot hope to capture the soul of an institution. In targeting U.S. News, we must not lose focus on what makes Boston College Law School a truly unique place to be.