Mitchell Hamline President and Dean Anthony Niedwiecki announced to staff and faculty early in 2023 that the school would not be participating in the U.S. News & World Report rankings process this year.
In the message below—posted the day the rankings were released—he discusses his reasons for opting out of the U.S. News process and describes the values Mitchell Hamline holds dear.
After a year in which nearly a third of law schools, including Mitchell Hamline, pulled out of the process, U.S. News & World Report released its annual rankings today. The release was set for later in the spring than normal and then further delayed as U.S. News scrambled to deal with data issues. Suffice it to say this has been a historically tough year for U.S. News, as longstanding complaints from law deans about the overall school ranking system being opaque, elitist, nonscientific, and not reflective of student interests boiled over into widespread rebellion. I say it’s about time.
Earlier this year, a few months after Yale was the first to announce it was pulling out, I made the decision to have Mitchell Hamline decline to share data with U.S. News. We were the only law school in the state to do so. I saw this as an opportunity to downplay a system that never fit us well and to focus on telling our story in our own way. What we value as a law school and the things we’re excellent at doing are not things valued in the rankings.
I did not prohibit anyone from submitting the reputational surveys for overall law schools or specialty programs to U.S. News, but the school did not submit data. Some of that data is proprietary, and I didn’t feel it was necessary to continue sharing it, and U.S. News was still able to make its rankings using publicly available information. It’s possible we could have boosted our overall ranking if we’d shared more data, but I don’t think it would have been worth it. It is nice to be recognized, but not at the price of our values.
As for the rankings themselves, we continue to be ranked overall in the lowest quartile of the roughly 200 law schools, but our specialty programs continue to do well. We maintained our “best graduate schools (law)” designations for dispute resolution, health law, legal writing, clinical training, trial advocacy, and intellectual property law.
So what do I consider the heart of our story? What do we value that isn’t reflected in the rankings? The unique diversity of our student body, for example, is one of our greatest strengths but is not measured by U.S. News. On the rubric we use to evaluate applicants—which is rooted in our values of access and opportunity—we do consider LSAT and undergraduate GPA, but we also consider evidence of motivation, resilience, leadership, and other character traits. And because of our large older, professional student population, we also give weight to applicants’ graduate and doctoral records and their work experience. Many of those working professionals use their law degrees to continue in their current jobs or seek other professional opportunities after graduation, which is less favored in the U.S. News ranking system than jobs that require bar passage or where a J.D. is an advantage.
Just a few months after graduating from Mitchell Hamline last year, Angela Levasseur won election as the first female chief of her First Nation community in Canada. Her job doesn’t require bar passage, but she’s doing important work and using the skills she learned here. Angela is exactly the kind of student we’re honored to have at Mitchell Hamline, no matter how U.S. News would rate her job. Read more about her here.
Some of what U.S. News measures has value, but there is other value that is not measured. The rankings tell only part of the story for any school. I am extremely proud of the story we are creating at Mitchell Hamline.
President and Dean
Mitchell Hamline School of Law
P.S. For an excellent discussion of the drawbacks of the U.S. News ranking system and the new changes, I recommend this piece by Donald Tobin, former dean of the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law.