Law school reacts to drop in rank

The school hosted focus groups to address student concerns.

The School of Law continued to deal with backlash from students Monday after leaked U.S. News & World Report rankings revealed the school had fallen from 64 to 93 in the nation last week.

Law School Dean Lawrence Dessem called a meeting of students and faculty last Thursday to address student concerns regarding the drop in rankings. Dessem met with students to talk about the ranking again Monday afternoon.

"The meeting on Thursday was an hour long, and I spent another hour and a half hearing from students afterward," Dessem said. "I talked to students today as well after my class. We're just trying to figure out ways to prioritize our students concerns and sort through them."

According to the U.S. News & World Report website, the rankings are based on the average of 12 categories. Although MU's law school lost six points from last year, the loss was enough to drop it 28 spots. MU had a poor student-to-faculty ratio, 16.8, compared to schools it tied with last year, such as the University of Kansas, which had a 12.4 student-to-faculty ratio.

Dessem said the school should not let the drop in rank distract students and faculty from long-reaching goals.

"We are primarily concerned about jobs for our grads and only secondarily concerned about the U.S. News & World Report rankings," Dessem said.

The dean also expressed doubt as to the validity of the ranking system.

"I think those are flawed rankings in many respects," Dessem said. "Even if you do credit U.S. News, what I would focus on is our reputation, particularly among lawyers and judges."

Dessem said the law school does many things well that are not counted through the U.S. News & World Report ranking.

"The difficulty with any ranking like this is that you can only count the numerable things," Dessem said. "You can't count teaching quality and you can't count networking. Instead, you can count the number of books in the library and student to faculty ratios."

Assistant Dean for Admissions Tracy Gonzalez met with students in focus groups to address consistent concerns, Dessem said.

"Dean Gonzalez is having some smaller focus group meetings and we have an open door policy in general," Dessem said. "We're through the initial disappointment, so let's look at actual initiatives. Some good ideas are coming forth and we're figuring out how to proceed with them."

Elizabeth Russell, a law student working toward a juris doctorate, said she used MU's rank as a factor when selecting law schools but would not change that decision considering its fall to No. 93 in the nation.

"I do not think the value of my degree is intrinsically diminished due to the drop in rank," Russell said. "My concern is for the students who wish to seek employment outside the state. Employers who are not familiar with the good reputation of Missouri Law School and its students may put unnecessary weight on the most recent rank."

Law student Meghan McClowry said she is worried about outside perception of the law school.

"My concern about the drop in the law school's ranking is not that my degree's value will be diminished, but rather that the quality of an MU legal education for future students will diminish," McClowry said. "No matter how you look at it, students, potential professors and even author's submitting to our law reviews consider the school's rankings when making decisions to attend or accept a position or to submit articles."

Gonzalez said the law school will remain open to new ideas from students and will examine many of its practices.

"We are currently evaluating the services provided to students through career development to determine what improvements and additions can be made to assist our students develop successful career strategies and ultimately find positions in the firms, agencies, etc., of their choosing," Gonzalez said. "Due to the economy, it is essential that we continue to be open to new and innovative ways of addressing employment and working together towards that goal is paramount."

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