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December 19, 2011

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David Bernstein

There's no reason to think that US News is responsible for a decline in minority admissions. If the LSAT median at a given school is 163, it doesn't matter if the last few spaces go to students with a 162, or to URMS with lower scores. The median, which is all USN looks at, is the same either way. Same with GPA.

Bob Strassfeld

I agree with David that more is at work here than merely the US News rankings, but I think he also underestimates the role of US News. First, while the formula relies on the median LSAT, US News also reports the 25th and 75th percentile LSAT scores. Also, bar passage figures into the rankings both directly and indirectly (employment 9 months out of law school). I would guess that most law schools see the LSAT as an inadequate, but better than any alternatives, predictor of first year success and see first year success as a predictor of success on the bar exam. So in a variety of ways, I do think that fear of US News has a marginal impact on minority admissions.

Beyond the negative impact of the rankings, I think it is fair to ask whether a law school that is more diverse (perhaps in all sorts of senses)is a better school because of that diversity. If that is so, and we can come up with a sensible method to measure and rank diversity, might it not be a better formula that includes this factor?

Rick Garnett

Bob -- following up on your second paragraph, it seems to me that you are quite right that it is fair to ask the question you ask, but my sense is that it would be really hard to "come up with a sensible method." That is, the intuition (which I share) that a more-diverse law school is "better" because of its diversity is, it seems to me, a really tough one to translate into a ranking formula, because the way and reasons why diversity makes a law school better are reasonably contested, as is the very question of what "counts" toward a law school's diversity.

If we simply re-worked the USN formula to give weight to the percentages of students (or faculty) who are of underrepresented ethnic and racial groups, we might miss the value of, say, socio-economic, ideological, geographical, and religious diversity, and vice-versa. And, if we prioritized the value of diversity *within* a particular law school we could lose out on the value to the academy and profession of having distinctive law schools, which might appear, by some measures, not-diverse internally but which contribute, institutionally, to the diversity of the academy and profession. As always, there are trade-offs.

It strikes me that a better world might be one in which people considering law schools (prospective students, prospective employers, prospective faculty, etc.) looked, in a disaggregated way -- unbiased by formula-produced rankings -- things like (a) the LSAT / GPA of current students; (b) the reputation and scholarly productivity of the faculty; (c) the employment statistics and bar-pass rates; (d) the community and culture at the law school; and (e) demographic and other relevant information about the faculty and student body that would be helpful in coming to views about the school's value-adding diversity. Those considering the schools could then weigh for themselves these and other factors -- again, unburdened by the distorting effect of a nagging sense that, at the end of the day, they should defer to U.S. News and put a thumb on the scale for the T14 . . . no matter how that T14 is identified. Thoughts?

Alfred Brophy

I agree with everything that Bob and Rick say, I think.

I've been thinking about ways we might measure class diversity at law schools (this is what Rick calls socio-economic diversity, I think). I don't know as we could do it with the data that the ABA currently collects. However, one proxy I've been playing with a little is percentage of students at the undergraduate level who receive Pell grants.

Lots to be said about this -- and though I know this is a tangential issue here, but at some point I'd like to come back and talk about the Chronicle's data from last March on the percentage of students receiving Pell grants at the schools with the sixty largest endowments:

http://chronicle.com/article/Students-With-Pell-Grants-at/126847/

Matt

Isn't one of the problems w/ the US News rankings that it tries to combine a lot of different, not clearly closely related, factors together into on ranking, based on fairly arbitrary weighting of the factors? If that's right, then I'd worry that adding a "diversity" factor to the rankings would make them that much worse, even if we overcame the trouble of how to measure diversity in the relevant sense. I'd be glad to see well-done rankings of law schools on one or more scales of diversity. (More than one might be better than mixing together lots of types of diversity, I think.) But I'd probably be opposed to lumping this in with other not closely related factors in an arbitrarily weighted way to give one over-all score.

Bob Strassfeld

I confess to being a babe in the woods on empirical matters. Consequently, I don't know whether or not the problems suggested by Rick and Matt are insurmountable or not. I do agree that any discussion of what kind of diversity counts is likely to get messy, and I also suspect that were US News to adopt a diversity component in their formula they would be tempted to reach for the broadest, and, therefore, most diluted, notion, so as to offend nobody and sell more magazines.

Regrettably, I'm not sure some sort of diversity ranking outside of the US News formula fixes the problem, given the power that the US News rankings appear to have.

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