I write again regarding US News rankings. We are ranked #8 in diversity; #19 according to the bench and the bar; and #35 according to academic peers. Other rankings show us to produce the most Super Lawyers of any California school (#11 in the nation) and to have improved to #12 in law schools whose graduates earn the most money. Yet our overall US News ranking is not what is ought to be. I am determined to do better. It is crucial to our shared future to attack this problem.
I have had an opportunity to consult further with the Faculty Executive Committee, as well as to discuss these matters at the weekly Key Issues meeting. We will proceed expeditiously to convene a Rankings Task Force 2.0. Its members will be charged with developing a half dozen to a dozen proposals. They will be asked to be as practical as possible. For each idea, there should be a discussion of its intrinsic merits and alignment with the strategic plan; a realistic assessment of costs and benefits, including from collateral consequences; and an explanation of the basis for believing it is likely that the tactic will bring about meaningful positive change in the overall rank.
To be effective, we will need to analyze the data. We have already begun; I have had people with statistical skills look at specific questions and I have benefited from their preliminary answers. We await the release of ABA data later this spring to develop a full model as we have done in the past.
As we study the facts, I believe it is important to identify the issues, frame them productively, and develop a consensus on the best course of action. Legal education as a whole faces challenges. Although our operating budget remains balanced on an enterprise-wide basis and is projected to be so next year as well, there will be a need for capital expenditures at some point. A compensation adjustment pool must also be made available soon.
In considering the voluminous information that enters the rankings formula, which changes year to year, it should be noted that the percentage weight assigned to each item by US News identifies only part of each item’s importance.
The various items must be scaled to be added together. The sensitivity of each item depends on whether the bell curve distribution is more peaky or flat. The volatility of the factor, where UC Hastings sits along the range and relative to our overall score, and how other schools fare all must be considered. We care about all of the factors, but they do not all influence the result equally (and those weighted most heavily in nominal terms may be among the least amenable to direct action).
Meanwhile, I want to highlight for you ten actions we already have taken to address rankings. The original Rankings Task Force offered valuable suggestions, and we have acted upon them. It has been a team effort, requiring discipline and sacrifice.
First, we have a plan. We have been, and will continue to be, as aggressive as possible while doing only what is intrinsically worthwhile and ethical. All of the points listed here are principled; they are beneficial to students regardless of their positive effect on rankings.
Second, we reduced class size. We did so deliberately, not because we were forced to do so, and, following our leadership, a majority of institutions have since done the same. Our goal is to become not only smaller, but also stronger. This structural change is profound, especially for a stand-alone law school that is tuition dependent — we cannot call on a central administration for a temporary subsidy, and we must operate primarily based on what students pay us. Due to the careful planning that went into this action, we have maintained a balanced budget all along, even as we have held tuition constant for three years. There remains much work to be done to ensure everything else is adjusted to the new enrollment levels.
Third, we have ensured all of our data reporting portrays us as best as possible and as accurately as possible. We created a new full-time role at the College, held by a lawyer who has been trained in all aspects of institutional research, regulatory compliance, and accreditation. Judgment calls are identified and resolved: the past few years have seen tremendous change and new complexity in the metrics used to evaluate legal education.
Fourth, we have obtained increased state funding and started our capital campaign (quiet phase). The rankings correlate highly to financial resources. Throughout, we have outperformed — significantly — our financial resources. That is, we have maintained a much greater reputation than might be predicted based solely on the amount of money we have available. Those who led this institution in the past deserve great gratitude from all of us for what they were able to accomplish within a budget that does not compare with our peers; there is only one other independent law school that even places within the top one hundred.
Fifth, we changed our admissions formula. We were overemphasizing the LSAT compared to the UGPA. The change, which affects only a few instances at the margins, prefers hardworking strivers (higher UGPA, slightly lower LSAT) rather than brilliant slackers (higher LSAT, very low UGPA). This is more than defensible; it reflects the values of the school and society. It is a realistic means to achieve a boost on a key metric, because it is easier to raise UGPA than LSAT.
Sixth, we have continued faculty hiring despite the reduced enrollment. We have improved our student-faculty ratio (SFR) from the prior year, but we are not at our best (lowest) level historically and we can continue to make progress. Like the other changes, a better SFR means a better educational experience. Our goal is to continue driving down the SFR as much as possible. There are those who have suggested we might be better off financially by reducing the tenured/tenure-track faculty. Such a tactic would be ill-advised and contrary to our identity as a research institution.
Seventh, we publicize engaged scholarship. Our Communications Department has dedicated a person to working with the Associate Dean for Research. We put together a special issue of the alumni magazine; we have added a regular, expansive feature to the alumni magazine; and we target communications to peer reputation voters. Objective metrics show that our rates of engagement with the public through social media are among the highest of our peer schools.
Eighth, we hired two new people for career counseling; they are lawyers themselves, working full-time. One specializes in assisting 3L students and recent graduates; she was a part-time temp previously. Another has expertise with foreign and LLM students; she also works with the student services office.
Ninth, we have initiated a significant program to improve bar passage results. The efforts have already begun, with supplemental lectures and workshops this spring.
Tenth, last year we began to modify our financial aid policies significantly. The process is now faster, with awards being offered approximately six weeks earlier than before, and there is greater discretion to create sizable, competitive packages for recruitment of the students who display the best metrics and also show financial need (as almost all of our students do). As we enter into the season to bring in next year’s entering class, we are acutely aware of the competition to do so.
Finally, I would be remiss if I failed to note that the rankings formula punishes schools with ideals such as ours. I offer a single example of a characteristic of our school that we do not intend to change (though we might be able to persuade US News to alter its calculation of value). We are proud to be among the top schools (typically number one) in the state for producing graduates who pursue public sector and public interest employment (and usually within the top three in percentage terms). Yet the “new normal” for hiring into these jobs is no longer immediate, full-time, permanent employment. It includes hiring later, part-time, or on a temporary basis — as the pipeline into full-time, permanent roles. These jobs in the public sector and public interest are no less “real” than their counterparts with “BigLaw,” but they are not counted as equivalent.
Our resolve as a community is needed most when it is tested most. We share an interest. UC Hastings has always been a great law school. It is up to us to cooperate to ensure it is recognized as such.
-Frank H. Wu
Frank H. Wu
Chancellor & Dean