Monday, May 5, 2003

UC Law's prestige may be slipping

Perry Mason would call it "The Case of the Low-Scoring Law School." The students at the University of Cincinnati College of Law called it a "crisis."

For Dean Joseph Tomain, it's a headache.

In November, members of the UC Law Review made the case that the law school is slipping. Now it will be discussed by the UC Board of Trustees at its May 21 meeting, said Vice-chairman Mike Allen, also Hamilton County's prosecutor.

The students complained that seven "well-respected" professors have left UC in the past two years. They said the school is losing prestige because of a "significant drop" in the first-time pass rate of UC graduates in state Bar exams, from 91 percent in 2001 to 80 percent in 2002.

Poor grades

UC Law also slipped in annual law-school rankings by U.S. News & World Report. "Since 1998, when it was ranked 43rd in the nation, the College of Law has gradually slipped into the unranked second tier of accredited law schools," the students' letter to Tomain said. "An out-of-state firm recently denied an interview to one of our members because the firm said it refused to hire students from second-tier law schools."

Tomain said UC still has "the best small law school in the country."

UC's graduation class is small and most students stay in Cincinnati, so the school fares poorly in national comparisons, he said. "The rankings get more attention than they deserve."

As for Bar exams, "If you take a 12-year slice, we've been a leader in the state," he said.

There's another complaint that pops up like a Perry Mason witness. Some students, alumni and faculty cite an increasing ideological tilt to the left that pollutes scholarship with political indoctrination.

Allen says recent forums at UC Law against the death penalty and in favor drug decriminalization offered no balance. "I've told Joe Tomain that the law school has a leftward tilt and it ought not to have any tilt at all."

A liberal tilt?

"It's getting better," he said. "But there has been a problem up there of not wanting to expose students to both sides of an issue." Tomain said he's unaware of any liberal or conservative tilt. "If I went down the list of faculty members, and had to put an L or a C next to their names, I'd get half of them wrong. Not all wrong, but about half."

He said Allen has an open invitation to participate in forums on various topics. But that's not the same as deliberately inviting another point of view.

One thing they agree on: UC Law salaries are among the lowest in the state. "I can improve the rankings overnight if you give me a blank check to recruit faculty and students," Tomain said.

Allen said that will come up at the UC board meeting. "They're losing really good professionals to other law schools because they can't pay enough."

A stiff tuition jolt is not the answer law students were looking for when they asked about poor vision, bad communication and sliding prestige. But it might be the one they get.

E-mail or call 768-8301.

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