NUJS Kolkata professor Shamnad Basheer and two students have threatened to complain to the Press Council of India about the law school rankings of national magazines Outlook India and India Today, which they allege suffered from "gross inaccuracies and methodological flaws" that violated "canons of journalistic ethics" and did a great disservice to students.
In separate letters sent to Outlook's editor Vinod Mehta and India Today's editor-in-chief Aroon Purie on 18 August 2010, Basheer and NUJS third-year students Shambo Nandy and Debanshu Khettry said that the magazines needed to examine and redress the matter of their 2010 rankings of law colleges, which were both re-published on Legally India on 22 June 2010.
Basheer told Legally India that there were very obvious errors in this year's Outlook ranking.
In the letter to the magazine the professor and the two students alleged that the weighting given to the "selection process" at colleges was not accurate, that "academic excellence" was not given enough weighting, college's placements were not reflected well and that faculty performance was not taken into account.
They also alleged that paid advertisements in Outlook and India Today's supplements appeared to have an effect on the respective ranking of a law college and requested for both magazines to explain NUJS's drop in the 2010 rankings.
NUJS dropped from second place in 2009 to fifth place in 2010's Outlook rankings, with Nalsar Hyderabad, ILS Pune and NLIU Bhopal pulling ahead of the Kolkata law school.
India Today placed NUJS two places higher than the previous year in 2010 in sixth rank behind NLSIU, Nalsar, NLIU Bhopal, Campus Law Centre DU and Symbiosis Pune.
"The obvious ones where [Outlook] really goofed up on is the 'selection process' category," Basheer told Legally India. "For CLAT [the Common Law Admissions Test] all of these [CLAT] colleges have the same selection process but are marked differently.
"And Banaras Hindu University [BHU] got the highest marks for 'selection process' and the exam is worse than CLAT or as good as CLAT at best. The second mark is given to ILS Pune but ILS doesn't even have an entrance exam - they just select based on 12th standard marks," said Basheer.
"Secondly 'academic excellence' is given lower marks than 'selection process'," he added, stating that Outlook only allocated 200 marks to the former whereas potentially awarding up to 288 marks in the latter category.
In terms of recruitment Nalsar Hyderabad was judged by Outlook to have been ahead of NLSIU Bangalore, although NLSIU had a stronger recruitment performance that year according to independent data, Basheer said.
The process in the category of "faculty performance" was also not clear, noted Basheer. "They asked us for a whole bunch of data, they asked us not only for publications but photocopies of the key pages of the publications and to compile all of that. And in the end we find they've not even ranked faculty although they had it in 2008."
"Why did you drop faculty performance?" he asked. "This is an important indicator."
He also added that Outlook India had never appeared to independently verify data and that law schools inevitably inflated their figures, while "perceptual ranks" were determined by consulting anonymous stakeholders without transparency.
Finally, Basheer, Nandy and Khettry's letters also alleged that there was a correlation between advertisements law schools took out or declined to take out in the Outlook and India Today supplements and the eventual rankings of the respective colleges in the same supplement.
Basheer claimed that colleges that took out advertising generally did not ever drop to lower rankings. "It regularises the risk of rank inflation."
While he said that the errors in Outlook's rankings this year were a lot more glaring than India Today's, both magazines' methodologies were flawed and not transparent.
The students and Basheer wrote to the magazines: "We would appreciate a satisfactory response from you within the next one week of receipt of this letter, failing which we will be compelled to initiate appropriate proceedings before the Press Council of India under the Press Council (Procedure for Inquiry) Regulations, 1979."
Outlook's editor Mehta and India Today's editor-in-chief Purie were not immediately available for comment when emailed by Legally India.