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Duquesne University Law School dropped from the third-tier to the fourth-tier in the U.S. News and World Report rankings of top law schools in the nation, while the publication again ranked the University of Pittsburgh Law School in its usual second-tier position. The special issue of “America’s Best Law Schools 2002″ hit newsstands and the Web April 2. The top six schools on the list — Yale, Stanford, Harvard, Columbia, New York University and the University of Chicago — remained in the same order as last year. In fact, the U.S. News rankings proved to be remarkably stable, and the consistent second-tier ranking for the University of Pittsburgh mirrored that trend. Michael J. Herring, dean of Pitt’s law school, said that the university falls into the same second-tier position year after year but that the law school is right on the fringe, about ready to make it in the top 50 schools. He is one of many deans frustrated with the report’s ranking system. He said some factors U.S. News uses, such as financial evaluations, drag Pitt down to the second tier each year. If the publication only looked at academic reputation, the University of Pittsburgh’s law school would certainly be among the top 50 law schools, Herring said. Herring called the ranking system “perverse,” as one major factor in the U.S. News ranking is how much the school spends per student. “We don’t spend very much,” Herring said. “We’re very efficient. If we were a business, we’d be praised for that.” U.S. News acknowledges that the majority of law school deans consider their ranking flawed and unfair. The publication encourages applicants to look at aspects beyond numerical rankings, such as location, price, course offerings and faculty expertise. Nicholas P. Cafardi, dean of Duquesne’s law school, did not return calls made for comment. But last year, after Duquesne ranked in the third tier, Cafardi called the rankings “absurd.” He described U.S. News’ criteria as subjective, far from being methodologically sound, and amounting to pure guesswork. Cafardi is not alone in criticizing the report. Over the past few years, the majority of law school deans consider their rankings flawed and unfair. Last year, an estimated 169 law school deans endorsed a letter by the Law School Admissions Council that was sent to all law school applicants, encouraging them to disregard the U.S. News survey. Statistics show that law school deans are turning to other periodicals that publish reports to help prospective students make well-informed decisions. One such report is the “Educational Quality Ranking of U.S. Law Schools,” published annually since 1997 by Brian Leiter, professor at the University of Texas. The main difference between the “EQR” and U.S. News report is that the “EQR” focuses exclusively on academic criteria, while academic criteria account for less than half of the U.S. News ranking. Herring said the “EQR” ranking measures academic reputation both subjectively and objectively, as well as measuring student quality. When those factors are put together, the University of Pittsburgh does very well, he said, noting that the law school ranks in the laudable top 50 schools in the “EQR” report. In the U.S. News ranking, a school’s reputation accounts for 40 percent of its total score. Reputation is rated using two separate surveys: first one of academics and second a survey of lawyers, senior judges and hiring partners. Scores ranged from “marginal” (1) to “distinguished” (5). In the category of reputation, the University of Pittsburgh scored a 2.9 for academics and 2.8 for lawyers, judges and hiring partners. The university also had one of the lowest student-to-faculty ratios in its tier. “Clearly the strength of the school is in our academic reputation,” Herring said. “Our faculty is incredibly well-respected.” Duquesne University scored lower than the University of Pittsburgh in the area of reputation with a 2 for academics and 2.2 for lawyers and judges, which placed the school in the fourth tier. Only the first 50 of the 174 accredited law schools are ranked definitively overall, according to a weighted average of measures. Those measures include reputation, selectivity, placement success and faculty resources. The total is then re-scaled so that the top school, in this case Yale University, receives a score of 100 points. The 49 subsequently ranked schools receive a percentage of that score. Beyond the top 50 institutions, U.S. News lists alphabetically schools in three tiers. Schools within each tier are considered broadly similar in quality. Elsewhere in Pennsylvania, the University of Pennsylvania law school was ranked No. 10; Temple and Villanova law schools were again ranked in the second tier. The Dickinson School of Law at Pennsylvania State University placed in the third tier.

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