Law schools throughout the country find themselves in a difficult position every time the U.S. News & World Report releases its annual ranking guide. The Washington Post reports that even as school officials try to play down the importance of their schools’ individual rank, they are under increased pressure from both alumni and students not to slip down the list. When Boston College Law School suddenly dropped five places one year about a decade ago, then Boston College Law dean John Garvey arranged to meet with Bob Morse, one of the people responsible for compiling the USN&WR list.
The problem, it turned out, was the decline in the number of Boston College graduates who were able to obtain employment after graduation. Employment statistics form a large part of the school’s overall rank: even a two-percent drop can translate to a 40-step tumble.
“I’m sure I was just one in a long line of deans who queued up to talk to him about why they weren’t doing as well as they thought they should in the rankings,” Garvey said. “Deans worry about it, because prospective students attach way too much significance to minor differences in the rankings.”
Garvey is not the only one who keeps such a close eye on his school’s annual performance. Michael J. Fauer, dean of the George Washington University education school, also found himself across the table from Morse, trying to convince him that his ranking formula didn’t accurately reflect the value of the schools it was evaluating. Fauer says that he wishes he had the luxury to ignore his school’s position in the rankings, or even disregard the rankings entirely, but he feels that maintaining, and improving, his school’s performance is now a part of his job.
This attitude, which is almost universal among law school administrators, is why the Bangor Daily News calls Bob Morse “one of the most powerful wonks in the country.” For over 20 years, Morse had presided over the compilation of the list which is always widely anticipated before its fall release and decried, criticized and quietly celebrated after. This year the release is scheduled for September 13th and Morse is already bracing himself for the reaction. All during the year, his team fields calls from schools anxious to improve their showing, while also decrying the magazine’s methodology. There are also several industry meetings throughout the year where school administrators can raise questions and give Morse an opportunity to addresses his critics’ concerns directly.