WVU's College of Law

John Fisher

MORGANTOWN – West Virginia University's College of Law has fallen to fourth-tier status in the latest U.S.News & World Report graduate school rankings.

WVU's College of Law traditionally has been listed among third tier law schools in U.S. News' annual look at America's Best Grad Schools. But the school dropped to fourth tier in the 2007 list, which was released last week.

"There were a number of reasons for WVU's drop," said Bob Morse, U.S.News & World Report's director of data research. "There was a weakness in placement, and the admission data was slightly weaker. And they had a slight change in their peer assessment."

He said the biggest weakness that affected WVU's ranking was that WVU had "a smaller proportion of people employed at nine months (after graduation) than they did the year before."

John Fisher, the dean of the College of Law, also mentioned that issue.

"The one thing I noticed is the placement of our graduates for the class that would have graduated in 2004 was roughly 11 percent lower than it traditionally has been," he said. "Historically, we're in 90th percentile. This reporting is 79 percent.

"Also, I believe that because we had two faculty members on sabbatical this fall semester, that had a negative impact on our student-teacher ratio. We're still trying to see what else had a bearing."

Still, Fisher said the drop in the rankings was unexpected.

"This came as very much of a surprise and a substantial disappointment," Fisher said. "We're trying to basically trying to figure out what happened.

"I don't think it's a fair portrayal of the quality of education we provide. And it's unfortunate that some people might judge us just by using this ranking."

He said college officials will work to improve whatever factors caused WVU's drop.

"We're looking at matters that are within our control that will better reflect the quality of education we provide," he said.

Fisher said he doesn't think the change in status will greatly affect applications to the school.

"My guess is that it will have a marginal impact on the in-state," he said. "It could have an impact on someone who has been admitted to several law schools. The lawyers in West Virginia know and appreciate the quality of education they receive here. The reliance on a report such as that is not as important in-state.

"I'd guess it would have more of an impact on the non-resident."

Morse said it's not uncommon for schools to move up and down in the rankings because of a few slight changes in data from year to year.

"Can they move back up?" he said. "It's certainly possible."

Some WVU College of Law graduates also were surprised to hear of the change.

"Rankings are a snapshot in time," said Ancil Ramey, a member of Steptoe & Johnson in its Charleston office. "When The Greenbrier went from a five-star resort to a four-star resort, I don't think most people who went there saw any difference.

"But I don't think it ought to be cause for great concern," Ramey said. "I think most WVU students are West Virginia residents who plan to practice in West Virginia. Any sort of downgrade in ranking won't have much of an effect.

"If anything, it ought to just install a desire for the College of Law to make improvements."

Tim Yianne also said he was a little surprised about the drop to fourth tier.

"I think some of the professors have retired, and I'm not sure who the replacements have been" said Yianne, who received his law degree from WVU in . "It's obviously disappointing to hear that."

Yianne, who works at Bell & Bands in Charleston, said he received a well-balanced education at WVU.

"I thought they had a very solid curriculum that prepared me for the practice of law," he said. "And as an in-state student, the tuition is very reasonable. If you intend on staying in West Virginia to practice, the job placement success is good."

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