Last week, I challenged Jay Conison to provide some data to substantiate his claims that a.) Charlotte School of Law/InfiLaw has some magic formula for identifying students with very low LSATs and poor grades who nevertheless have a reasonable aptitude for the study of law, and, b.) that Charlotte School of Law/InfiLaw has better educational outcomes than other peer law schools with similarly qualified students.
One of the commenters to my post, posting under the name Barry, offered this comment:
“I think that we'll wait a loooong time before he tries to answer this (a much shorter time for him to attempt to BS his way out of this, of course).”
Today, Jay Conison proved Barry right with an incredible post entitled “Black Boxes and Halos.”
Dean Conison really loves this black box metaphor. Last week, he said that “Mr. Frakt’s view rests on model of a law school as just a black box, into which one inputs LSAT scores and outputs bar passage.” After I rebutted this assertion by explaining that my views are much more nuanced, he is now accusing all those who think that entrance credentials of admitted students, attrition rates, bar passage data, employment outcomes, or any other statistical measurement of “inputs or outputs,” have some bearing on the quality of a law school of engaging in over-simplified “black box thinking.”
In this post, Dean Conison once again suggests that Charlotte’s entering class profile (with the lowest LSAT scores of any ABA-accredited school in history) are not “good measures of something important” and “do not necessarily have an unambiguous meaning.” He implies that Charlotte’s low numbers relate to “incoming student diversity” and suggests that LSATs and grades have different predictive values at different schools, implying without stating that Charlotte gets better results from its students with low predictors than other schools. Once again, no data is provided. He also makes an irrelevant reference to the fact that students can take LSAT prep courses and raise their scores, and that we don’t know if this means that the student who achieves a higher score after taking a prep course will actually be a better law student. Of course, that hasn’t stopped Charlotte, like many schools, from counting only the highest LSAT score of an applicant.
Dean Conison also discounts the importance of bar passage and job placement data, which I suppose makes sense when your school is performing so poorly by both measures. He informs us that our black box thinking is causing us to miss “most of what law school is about.” According to Dean Conison, “[l]aw school is all about educating students and transforming them into professionals” which is apparently different in his mind from educating students so they can pass the bar exam and enter the legal profession, preferably with a job.
Dean Conison is right about one thing; he notes that “[a]s lawyers and educators, we are trained to ask questions.” Well, I am a lawyer and educator, and I asked Dean Conison several questions; not surprisingly, he has failed to even attempt to answer any of them. Instead he trots out tired platitudes such as “there are few simple answers to hard questions.” That may be true, but the questions that I asked aren’t hard to answer, it’s just that the answers will be hard to explain away, so Dean Conison has decided that obfuscation and double-speak are the better course of action. In the end, Dean Conison is guilty of precisely what he accuses his critics of: “wishing away so much of what we very much need to know.” Judging from the comments to his post, he is not fooling anyone.
Dean Conison’s black box analogy brings to mind another kind of black box -- the flight data recorders that are recovered after an aircraft accident. When Charlotte School of Law and its sister schools finally crash and burn, and InfiLaw is forced to reveal its internal data in response to the subsequent class action lawsuit, what will the data inside the black box say about the cause of InfiLaw’s downfall? Based on Dean Conison’s posts on The Faculty Lounge, one factor that will be difficult to rule out is “pilot error.”