For better or worse, my very own University of Houston Law Center, apparently still the poster child for rankings schadenfreude, features prominently in the ABA Journal’s article The Rankings Czar. Read the backstory here, here and here. The cover story begins and ends with Houston.
Tropical Storm Allison blasted through Houston killing 22 people, flattening homes and drenching the University of Houston Law Center in mud and floods. That was 2001, closing out Nancy RapoÂportâ€™s first year as law school dean.
â€œOur computers survived only because our IT director risked his life to move classroom PCs to higher floors through the night of the storm,â€ Rapoport says.
The faculty and staffâ€”some of whom lost their own homesâ€”removed debris from buildings, scrounged supplies and aided students displaced by the storm. Despite the stress, Rapoport was exhilarated by the camaraderie. She never shed one tear of frustration.
Maybe thatâ€™s why her tears at a meetÂing with students and faculty six years later became a law school legend. The school had learned, just a week earlier, that it had fallen five spots (to 70th) in U.S. News & World Reportâ€™s annual law school rankings.
Distraught faculty and students wrote scathing critiques of her performance on blogs and computer bulletin boards, noting the school had plummeted nearly 20 spots during her six-year tenure.
Now a law professor at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, Rapoport is still amazed to see that her tears that day seem always near the top of any story that mentions her. The Rice University and Stanford Law alum is a nationally respected bankruptcy expert. She co-edited a book about corporate fiascoes and was interviewed onscreen in the Oscar-nominated Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room. There are many facets to Rapoportâ€™s career beyond those tears. Still …
â€œAm I the poster child for why the U.S. News & World Report rankings are bad?â€ Rapoport wondered last year in her blog.
Itâ€™s perhaps more accurate to say Rapoportâ€™s Houston ordeal scares the bejesus out of deans. Her tears are emblematic of the nerve-shredding power U.S. News rankings hold over deans, faculty and students.
The story then concludes…
Nancy Rapoport says she is much happier with her job and life in Las Vegas. She and her husband love the cityâ€™s blend of lavish color and pioneer spirit, and the beauty of the desert landscape. She confides she already had a job offer from the University of Nevada when she resigned as dean in Houston.
â€œTruthfully, the Houston job just wasnâ€™t the right fit for my personality, and office politics had made my relationship with the faculty strained,â€ she says. â€œThe rankings exacerbated tension that already existed.â€
Her successor, acting dean Raymond Nimmer, is now using technology to reach prospective students and publicize his law schoolâ€™s accomplishments. The school is developing an online social network similar to MySpace or Facebook for alumni. The site will be a window into the schoolâ€™s culture for potential applicants.
Nimmer also hopes to find ways to use text messaging and satellite radio to raise the schoolâ€™s profile.
In the past year, Nimmer says, the school has â€œreduced faculty-student ratio with some outstanding new hires.â€ The schoolâ€™s Center for Children, Law & Policy; Criminal Justice Institute; Institute for Intellectual Property & Information Law and other centers are hosting topical conference events.
And when asked what the schoolâ€™s U.S. News ranking was last year, he canâ€™t remember and asks his assistant. The University of Houston had jumped 10 slots to 60th place.
â€œI guess Iâ€™ve been so busy with work,â€ Nimmer says, â€œthe number just slipped my mind.â€
I’ve found the rankings to have very little value in my own selection on where to go to school – not because I didn’t look at them, but because the rational-seeming basis on which I made my decision turned out to have very little to do with what I value about my law school. Caveat emptor rankings buyers.
- ABA: The Rankings Czar