Volume 91, Issue 19

Tuesday, September 30, 1997

legal matters


Caveat Emptor

Once again Maclean's has given Western a low ranking in a nation-wide survey – this time it's law schools. So sue them.

Each year, the magazine is renowned for its involvement in Canada's university communities by publishing "report cards" on a group of the country's post-secondary institutions. Equally renowned is the criticism and feedback by Western and others, when they finish in the basement of the results. Thus, the question every year; "How accurate are these things?"

The latest rating has ranked Western's law school 12th in Canada out of 16. No wait, that was only one part of it. That was just the survey from grad students. Western really placed 13th because that is the view of 5,500 Canadian judges, lawyers and legal academics who were sent a second survey. But wait a minute, only nine per cent of those people responded. Oh dear, how confusing.

Once again Maclean's has presented its readers with a statistical stir-fry, left entirely to the discretion of conflict connoisseurs who may or may not believe in the art of surveys.

Western's poor result is based on what graduates thought of their years in law school. But what if the only Western students who responded (of the puny 30 per cent in total) merely used the survey as a means of reflecting their own negative experiences?

The problem isn't with the statistics, but how they are perceived. For example: Western's 12th place finish in Canada is only a second place finish in Ontario – higher than Queen's, Ottawa and Osgoode Hall. Meanwhile, Western was tops at providing students with electronic information services, an important aspect on which the school has focused much attention.

But picking and choosing from these results is what has caused all of the problems to begin with. The primary reason this survey does nothing for Canada's legal community is that it does not accurately weigh one school against another since it relies on student perspective – and barring extreme cases, no student has been to all of these law schools.

Maclean's surveys should be taken for what they are – statistics – a series of numbers that are vulnerable to manipulation. These surveys are not official guides showing the worst universities in Canada, nor a testament to the universities who scored highest. They are merely the published figures of what a small percentage of a percentage of students and academic professionals think. And apparently they don't think much of Western.

To Contact The Editorial Department: gazed@julian.uwo.ca

Copyright The Gazette 1997