St. Thomas Law School Loses Ranking After Self-Reporting Error

Dean Thomas Mengler wrote to U.S. News & World Report to express concerns about its decision to unrank the school from its "Best Law Firms" list, saying that the move serves as "a disincentive for law schools to promptly report mistaken or erroneous data."

The University of St. Thomas School of Law went from the 119th spot to “unranked” on U.S. News & World Report's influential “Best Law Schools” list after self-reporting an error that it submitted for the annual ranking.

When the 2013 edition of the list came out earlier this month, St. Thomas' law school had moved up 16 spots from the prior year.

But after obtaining an advance copy of the list-a tool widely used by prospective students across the country-the law school notified U.S. News that it mistakenly misreported the percentage of 2010 law school graduates who had jobs upon graduation: St. Thomas listed 80.6 percent when the correct figure was 32.9 percent. However, the school correctly listed the corresponding raw number of students who had jobs upon graduation-51 of its 155 graduates.

The share of students employed nine months after graduation-86.5 percent-was listed correctly in the rankings, according to St. Thomas. In compiling its list, U.S. News weighs that figure more heavily than the one at graduation.

St. Thomas said that it learned Friday through a U.S. News blog that its law school had become unranked after reporting the error. Earlier this week, law school Dean Thomas Mengler wrote an open letter to the blog's author, Bob Morse, sharply criticizing the decision.

Mengler said that in previous years, when law schools were discovered to have actually lied about their data, U.S. News didn't revise its published rankings and instead hoped that a public outcry would serve as enough of a deterrent. He added that opting to unrank colleges that self-report problems “will create a disincentive for law schools to promptly report mistaken or erroneous data.”

But U.S. News is reportedly standing by its decision. In an e-mail to the Star Tribune, Editor Brian Kelly said that St. Thomas' error was “highly inflated” and “troubling because the school was given multiple opportunities to correct it after submission.”

“We concluded that the correct number would have had a material impact on St. Thomas' ranking,” Kelly added.

Jerry Organ, a St. Thomas law professor who has said that law schools should be more transparent in reporting employment data, told the Star Tribune that he agrees with Mengler that U.S. News' decision could serve as a disincentive for law schools to report errors. He said that auditing employment data is difficult because schools gather data themselves by contacting graduates. U.S. News can only cross-check the employment data that it gets from universities, which in this case it didn't do, he added.

“It is not clear to me that U.S. News is interested in making the investment in resources it would need to assure that its rankings are based on reliable 'employment at graduation' data,” he told the Star Tribune.

Among other Minnesota law schools, the University of Minnesota ranked 19th on U.S. News' “Best Law Schools” list, William Mitchell ranked 127th, and Hamline University was unranked.