Law dean

The UT law school dropped back out of the prestigious top 14 law schools compiled by the U.S. News & World Rankings, but officials say the drop is not a result of controversial administrative decisions made last fall.

The firing of the former law dean Larry Sager in December did not influence the rankings since the U.S. News & World peer assessments were sent out in early October and were due in December.

Interim law dean Stefanie Lindquist said the key to the rankings is the school’s peer assessment scores that have remained consistently strong for years, but other factors influence the fluctuations.

U.S. News & World began the rankings in 1990, with the most importance placed on peer assessments from the top administrators and faculty of law schools, as well as a lesser portion by pre-selected lawyers and judges. Another portion of the rankings is based on selectivity factors and faculty resources.

“The rankings do not necessarily reflect the true quality of the law schools,” Lindquist said. “Given that we know the quality of the school has not changed, it seems artificial.”

President William Powers, Jr. fired the previous law dean, Sager, in December after several law professors filed an open records request that revealed compensation disparities among the faculty.

“The change in deanship here had no impact on the rankings,” Lindquist said. “The surveys were already in the seals.”

Robert Morse, director of data research for U.S. News & World, said the drop could be the result of small changes in a lot of factors and because the law schools that historically make up the top 14, such as Yale and Stanford, score consistently higher.

“It’s that UT-Austin’s profile is somewhat below them and they can’t raise it high enough to consistently be in that group,” Morse said.

Law student Joseph Keeney began at the UT School of Law last fall and said he does not worry about the rankings. He said students concerned with the rankings are looking for the prestige associated with the group.

“I’m still going to have the same job prospects that I had expected before I started,” Keeney said.

Keeney said the firing of Sager caused some distraction during finals, but he did not think it would greatly affect his education.

“I haven’t noticed any change at all,” Keeney said. “I think we’re in good hands.”

Lindquist said she does not think the issue of changing deans will hurt next year’s peer assessments because the law school has moved beyond it and if a new dean is hired, it could bring positive publicity to the school.

Printed on Friday, April 6, 2012 as: Rank drop not tied to firing, law school says