Stefanie Lindquist

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

The search for a replacement dean for the School of Law is underway, according to search committee chair David Rabban.

Rabban said he and other committee members are in the process of generating a list of potential candidates to replace former School of Law dean Larry Sager, who signed a letter of resignation Dec. 7 per request of UT President William Powers Jr. due to concerns over Sager’s management of the school. Sager joined the law faculty in 2002 and became dean in 2006.

Powers said the decision to remove Sager from the law school had nothing to do with the American Bar Association’s re-accreditation of the School of Law this year.

“For whatever reason the faculty was deeply divided and a very large group of faculty was not supportive of the dean,” Powers said. “This new leadership will bring the law school to a common goal. Healthy debates [among faculty] with the common goal of being the best department in the law school is important for moving ahead.”

Rabban said the committee is seeking “an intellectual leader with strong management skills” to fill Sager’s former position as soon as possible. The committee began meeting in November, as members formerly believed they would not need to fill the position until fall of 2012. In August, Sager announced his intent to step down from the position of dean following the academic year without giving a specific reason, according to The Texas Tribune.

“We’re generating a long list of candidates and we’re going to review that list as a committee,” Rabban said. “I can’t say there’s anyone already that we’ve been considering.”

Former associate dean Stefanie Lindquist was selected in December to serve as interim dean until a permanent replacement is found. Powers said Lindquist is already encouraging staff to look ahead, and other law school faculty members are grasping the concept well. Lindquist said she is planning to hold a student forum to update students in the law school about the transition and any updates in the dean search.

Lindquist said she did not have to think twice about accepting the position of interim dean and accepted the role as a part of her job duties.

“I didn’t think about it when President Powers called, I just said yes,” Lindquist said. “The position is enjoyable in the sense that it’s interesting and challenging.”

Lindquist said she is looking forward to returning to her former role and also teaching a number of courses in the law school as soon as the position is filled.