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April 03, 2012 11:00 AM Punished for Honesty?

By Daniel Luzer

The University of St. Thomas School of Law, in Minnapolis, is very angry at U.S. News & World Report because the publication recently classified the school as “unranked.” According to the open letter the dean of the law school sent to Robert Morse, the head of the college rankings at the publication:

We learned last Friday through your blog post that your publication placed the University of St. Thomas School of Law in the “unranked” category after it immediately self-reported that two submitted data points related to “at graduation employment” were conflicting - one accurate, one inaccurate. We have some questions about your decision to automatically “unrank” a school. I write to you today to do two things: first, to make two inquiries about your decision, and second, to express my concerns about the impact of your decision on schools’ incentives to correct errors promptly.
Is the decision to place a law school in the unranked category following a self-reported inadvertent error pertaining to conflicting data a new policy for U.S. News? Historically, and as recently as last fall, when other schools were discovered to have lied - not just, as in our case, to have made a mistake - you decided not to “change [your] long-standing policy of not revising previously published rankings.” In those cases, you were hopeful that a “public outcry” would serve as a deterrent. Is your decision to “unrank” a change in policy?

Apparently the law school reported that 80.6 percent of graduates were employed at graduation. In fact, the school recorded the wrong information. When it corrected the employment rate (to 32.9 percent) it the publication moved it to unranked.

Now it’s not like the University of St. Thomas really had much to lose; at number 119 in the third tier category, its rank was pretty low to begin with.

As Morse explained, the school is now unranked because the information the publication used to derive the original rank was inaccurate. It’s not like unranked is a penalty. It seems to just reflect a change in the interest of accuracy.

Still, the dean has a point. The source of much criticism of placement and salary information is the massive class action law-suit lawyer David Anziska is working on now. Anziska believes many American law schools are deceiving their applicants with their official employment rates and salary average. And as Anziska has said “at the end of this process, nearly every law school in the country will be sued.” St. Thomas probably isn’t any worse.

While New York’s Judge Melvin Schweitzer recently indicated that these public numbers don’t really matter and law schools are under no legal obligation to submit accurate information, there’s obviously a certain ethical obligation these institutions have. St. Thomas may be an unimpressive law school, but at least it’s trying to be honest.

The University of St. Thomas information may have been particularly inaccurate (33 versus 81 percent is a huge discrepancy) , but aren’t they all lying?

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer

Comments

  • Tom Benghauser of College Straight Talk on April 03, 2012 2:00 PM:

    What gorgeous, absolutely beautiful irony:

    U.S. News - which with its voodoo-based, essentially dishonest rankings has for years been exploiting college intenders and their families and exerting an increasingly pernicious impact on the behavior of the colleges - now takes the moral high ground!

    Pot calling the kettle black? No honor among thieves?

    College applicants and their families deserve better.