UW Law School Dean: ‘We are not running away from the data’
Tamara Lawson, dean of the University of Washington law school, says she’s quitting the rankings game.
In an announcement made earlier this week, Lawson said the school would no longer participate in the U.S. News and World Report rankings. This is despite the fact that the law school is ranked #1 in the Pacific Northwest.
“I made this decision and consultation after deep conversations with our faculty, our students, and our Alumni Leaders.,” Lawson said. “And the issue was clear, at least as we saw it, that the methodology of these rankings undercut our mission, our commitment to community service, the public good, and to access to justice.”
Other schools have decided, for similar reasons, not to participate in the rankings, including Yale University Law School.
Appearing on The Gee and Ursula Show on KIRO Newsradio, Lawson said, “It’s a tough call to decide whether you’re going to stay in and maybe try to resolve the errors in a flawed system, or take a stand and say, we’re taking that stand because the system is flawed. I think Yale made that clear in its first statement that the deans have been participating with U.S. News and highlighting these errors for decades.
“I do want to highlight, we are not running from the data. Our data is publicly available on our website. It’s publicly available on the American Bar Association website,” Lawson continued. “There are other tools from nonprofit entities that allow students to do their own investigation of law schools. And we agree with putting the students in the driver’s seat.”
Lawson said that U.S. News didn’t show any interest in changing the way the rankings were determined.
“We still want to be part of any solution that’s viable,” she said. “But at the same time, we want to be clear about what our values are, our values are connected to our students, and our impact on injustice in the world.”
Ursula asked what issues did Lawson have with the U.S. News rankings, who pointed specifically to the way that budget categories in the methodology are manipulated.
At some schools, the higher the tuition, the better you can do in the rankings, Lawson explained. This can encourage a “perverse incentive” for schools, who can try to game the system and raise tuition in order to artificially attract more students.
Lawson said that she was committed to scholarships and fellowships used to bridge students’ access to the profession to make sure that they could get those jobs and impact underserved communities.
“Those fellowships don’t count under these rankings. That’s absurd and insane,” Lawson said.
Lawson felt all of these are important issues because law schools are important to society.
“We have our professors arguing before the US Supreme Court on that right now. So we’re connected to a larger community role for justice. And we have to make sure that our priorities are appropriately there,” she said.
Lawson told KIRO Newsradio there are methods other than rankings where students can research law schools, including the Gates Public Service Fellows program, where students can receive a full-ride scholarship by committing to public service. This will, support students in their careers following law school, and encourage our whole student body to consider public service as one of their primary focuses.
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