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University at Buffalo Law School ranking improves in U.S. News & World Report survey

Despite a turbulent past year, the University at Buffalo Law School’s ranking improved in the latest U.S. News & World Report survey of the nation’s top graduate schools.

The Law School moved up 13 spots to No. 87 on the influential but controversial annual ranking. UB tied six other law schools – Northeastern University, Rutgers University, St. Louis University, Syracuse University, the University of New Hampshire School of Law and Villanova University.

“We’re happy about it, just as we’re unhappy if it goes in the other direction,” said James A. Gardner, the Law School’s interim dean.

The school, which dates back to 1887, has had a challenging year. A sharp decline in applications led to a smaller first-year class in August and a reduction in faculty from 48 to 40 through early retirement incentives.

In addition, Makau W. Mutua resigned after seven years as Law School dean in December, amid criticism from faculty that his management style had divided the school.

Mutua also was embroiled in a wrongful termination lawsuit that accused him of lying under oath. In court papers, Mutua denied the perjury allegation. He returned to the Law School’s faculty after stepping down as dean.

Gardner took over as interim dean on Dec. 20.

The U.S. News rankings have been a headache for college and university administrators, who argue the methodology doesn’t necessarily portray how well a school educates students.

“They are incomplete at best, and perniciously misleading at worst,” Gardner said.

Yale University ranked No. 1 among law schools, followed by Harvard and Stanford at No. 2. New York State had four law schools ranked in the top 50, with Columbia University at No. 4, New York University at No. 6, Cornell at No. 13 and Fordham at No. 34.

The rankings take into account peer assessments, assessments by lawyers and judges, student-to-faculty ratios, and employment and bar passage rates, among other data.

UB has seen large swings over the years in its ranking, from as high as No. 77 in 2007 to as low as “unranked” in 2010.

But parents and students closely examine findings, which force administrators “to pay much more attention to the rankings than we want to,” Gardner said.

In other graduate schools, business administration at UB’s School of Management ranked 79th among MBA programs nationwide, slipping from 74th last year, and the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences rose one spot to 59th. UB also ranked in doctoral programs in audiology (18th), rehabilitation counseling (21st), psychology (63rd), and English (44th).

Student interest for law school nationwide has declined the past few years as demand for lawyers dipped. In 2014, 37,924 men and women enrolled as first-year law students – the lowest number since 1973, according to the American Bar Association.Overall enrollment at UB Law School dropped 18 percent between 2009 and 2013.With applications nationwide plummeting, law schools have been under intense pressure to recruit top students while keeping their costs down and ensuring their graduates snare jobs and limit debt. UB charges state residents $26,097 in law school tuition and fees and $43,987 to non-residents.

UB has introduced new initiatives aimed at attracting students and improving legal education. Last month, the Law School announced that beginning this fall, it will waive the Law School Admission Test requirement for UB undergraduates who maintained at least a 3.5 grade-point average in undergraduate courses and scored well on a previous standardized test, such as the SAT or ACT.

Also in the fall, first-year students will be placed in small classes for one of their six first-year courses.

Instead of a lecture of 60 to 90 students, the new course will include just 15 students, allowing greater one-on-one interaction among students and professors.

email: jtokasz@buffnews.com