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Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Name Game, Law Schools, and Rankings

I received an email this week, forwarded to me from our Dean at its sender's request because I am one of our school's US News voters.  The email was from the Dean at a law school that had recently changed its name to reflect a major gift.  The new name, however, was not utilized on this year's US News ballot, which instead featured the law school's old name. 

This isn't the first time that the much maligned but supposedly all-powerful US News rankings have gotten into trouble with how they identified subject schools.  A few years back, the ballots spontaneously changed the name of Loyola Law School (to Loyola Marymout), which led to a drop in "academic reputation" of 0.3 points.

Three thoughts.  First, who decides what a school should be called? 

It seems fairly intuitive that the school itself should have some say (subject, of course, to governing authorities in the case of state schools).  Obviously, existing trade names must be respected, so, for instance, there might be some issues in Columbus if here at Toledo we changed our name to "The University of Toledo: An Ohio State University College of Law."  I have been somewhat amused to see reports that a free-standing law school in Sydney, Australia, named "The College of Law," is suing the ANU College of Law claiming that the term "College of Law" is trademarked. Hopefully the IP experts out there can assure me that Australian trademark law has limited extra-territorial application.

Second, any ranking (like the US News ranking of academic reputation) so easily affected by minor differences in naming ought not to be one to which serious people should give too much credit.

Third, may I respectfully suggest that, since US News feels comfortable changing or ignoring the names law schools choose for themselves, that we collectively change the name by which we refer to those rankings -- in an effort to be more accurate and more informative to potential law applicants.  The rankings are variously referred to as "U.S. News and World Report rankings," "USNWR rankings", and, perhaps most commonly, the "US News rankings."  My suggestion is that, in writing, we start calling them the "Morse/U.S. News.com" rankings.  Verbally, please use "Morse-slash-U.S.-News-dot-com."

After all, these rankings are pretty much just the work of one dude.  Just like the Leiter rankings (and their derivatives) reflect Professor Leiter's particular methodological choices, the Morse rankings reflect the choices of Mr. Morse.  So let's give him credit.

And calling them by the full "US...Report" name misleadingly evokes memories of a time when there was a magazine that went by that name.  There is no such magazine.  A web site remains; hence, we should give the rankings their dot-com due.

To the extent affiliation with the printed page affords these rankings a kind of journalistic imprimatur (such that journalists in editorial positions at the magazine were willing at some point in the past to put their professional credibility on the line in publishing these rankings), the current name does not reflect that the magazine has disappeared. 

Posted by Geoffrey Rapp on November 14, 2012 at 03:31 PM | Permalink


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Don't you think that the e-mail from the Dean at the school whose name was changed was improper? Sounds like the Dean was politicking.

Posted by: Carrie | Nov 14, 2012 10:16:10 PM

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