Enhancing Academic Reputation in the US News Rankings

usnwr1.jpgBrian Leiter has an interesting post about advice for law school promotional brochures, otherwise known as “law porn.” I’ve always wondered whether such brochures are effective at enhancing a law school’s academic reputation in US News. I doubt they are. US News assesses academic reputation as follows:

Peer Assessment Score (.25)

In the fall of 2005, law school deans, deans of academic affairs, the chair of faculty appointments, and the most recently tenured faculty members were asked to rate programs on a scale from “marginal” (1) to “outstanding” (5). Those individuals who did not know enough about a school to evaluate it fairly were asked to mark “don’t know.” A school’s score is the average of all the respondents who rated it. Responses of “don’t know” counted neither for nor against a school. About 67 percent of those surveyed responded.

At any given school, only four people are doing the rankings each year — the dean, dean of academic affairs, appointments chair, and most recently tenured faculty member. That’s not a lot of people; nor is it representative of a law school faculty. To improve reputation over time, the most logical strategy would be to target the raters most likely to be repeat players — the deans. The deans account for 50% of the ratings, so why not just target the deans in mailings? These are the people who have the most impact on the ranking of law schools.

I doubt a glossy brochure will have any palpable effect on changing most deans’ assessments of various law schools. In fact, I wonder to what extent even adding quality law professors to the faculty will alter this rating. Every year, there’s a big shuffle with professors lateraling to different schools, but how many deans spend much time pondering over what schools had net gains or losses in faculty quality? Brian Leiter’s rankings ask professors to consider this, but not US News.

So here’s my idea for the most efficient way for a school to enhance its academic reputation: Reach out to the deans! Invite them to speak at workshops and conferences. Roll out the red carpet for them when they visit your school. Have your law school’s deans and professors schmooze with other law school deans at various events.

The US News academic reputation scores range from 1 to 5, with 5 being the highest. Basically, the goal is to convice the deans that your school should be ranked a notch higher on the form. My sense is that a glossy brochure will find its way quickly into the trash bin, and these brochures are costly to produce and send out. Perhaps the money is best spent on reaching out to the deans and trying to impress them. What dean wouldn’t rank your school a 4 rather than a 3 after being treated to lavish visit to your school, staying at a luxurious hotel, participating in an interesting conference, and having a fancy dinner accompanied with fine wine?

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