The University of Wisconsin Law School won’t participate in this year’s US News & World Report rankings, a decision made in protest of how the magazine prioritizes metrics that the school says conflict with its underlying values of accessibility and affordability.
The school’s decision, announced Thursday, follows more than a dozen other law schools in a cross-country revolt against the rankings. The withdrawals began last fall when Yale Law School, long ranked No. 1 in the country, said it would not participate because of how the rankings made it harder for schools to admit and support low-income students.
UW Law School Dean Dan Tokaji called the US News rankings “problematic” for a variety of reasons. The rankings consider a range of metrics, with particular emphasis on median LSAT scores and undergraduate GPAs.
“That causes law schools to spend a lot of their money, including scholarship money, trying to hit those numbers,” Tokaji said in an interview. “LSAT and GPA are really useful and important tools. But incentivizing us to focus single-mindedly on those things is not a good thing for legal education as a whole.”
Also weighted into the rankings are individual deans’ evaluations of peer schools, which Tokaji said has led to advertising dollars targeted toward other schools in order to drive up their own assessments.
US News responded earlier this month to the exodus of schools electing not to participate by changing some of its methodology for the 2023-24 rankings that are scheduled to be published this spring. Among the changes are less reliance on surveys of schools’ reputations and the removal of per-student spending, a metric that favored wealthy institutions.
But Tokaji said the changes didn’t resolve the flawed methodology and, in one way, actually made it worse.
The new methodology eliminated a metric on student debt, which some schools had criticized because it encouraged them to favor wealthy students over those with financial need. But Tokaji said it is UW’s responsibility as a public institution to keep student debt manageable. Excluding the metric altogether doesn’t help students in their search process, which, for many, is heavily weighted by cost.
Tokaji also took issue with an “obscure change” in methodology last year that led the school’s bar admissions metric to fall from No. 6 to No. 45. That’s despite UW Law graduates having a 100% bar admission rate in each of the last two years, he said.
UW Law School pointed out to US News in a late November meeting that the change penalizes schools in states allowing law school graduates to receive their licenses without taking the bar exam. Wisconsin’s “diploma privilege” reduces barriers to entry, especially for people from underrepresented backgrounds, but it’s drawbacks are the school’s rankings.
US News will continue to rank schools that have declined to participate by using publicly available data. But it will publish more detailed profiles of schools that respond.
UW Law School tied for No. 43 in the 2022-23 rankings. Tokaji said he’s open to participating in future rankings if “substantial and meaningful” improvements are made to the magazine’s methodology.
Marquette University Law School, ranked No. 105, will continue to participate.
“We are deeply sympathetic to the reasons prompting the recent decisions by a number of law schools to proceed differently with US News this year,” Dean Joseph D. Kearney said in a statement. “In the limited time available to us and in light of the magazine’s intention of providing information about even ‘non-participating’ schools, it has seemed better this year to continue to provide accurate information, even without confidence in the overall merits of the ranking system. We are confident in the value of a Marquette Law School education and in our ability to demonstrate that value.”