February 16, 2007
Hyperbole Watch: Why the University of Chicago Law School is NOT This Week's Winner
MOVING TO FRONT FROM 9/16/05, AS A COUPLE OF FOLKS HAVE NOMINATED THIS ONE LATELY. I AM ALSO SWAMPED AT THE MOMENT, SO THIS IS EASIER THAN POSTING NEW MATERIAL!
Several folks have suggesed the University of Chicago Law School based on this:
The faculty is, by a wide margin, the most productive, widely cited, and influential law faculty in the country and perhaps the world.
Strong claims, to be sure, but given that every study of scholarly productivity and impact as measured by citations (over the last decade at least) does show Chicago to be #1 in the U.S., these appear to be true strong claims, and thus not cases of Sextonism. "Perhaps the world" is perhaps overreaching (I know of no relevant data), but at least they put in a "perhaps"!
UPDATE: Len Cleavlin writes: "As Hall of Fame pitcher Dizzy Dean is supposed to have noted: 'It
ain't bragging if you can do it.' And that's what gets Chicago off the hook."
July 21, 2006
Sextonism Watch: Wake Forest University
At least this bit of wild hyperbole was internal puffery, but here it is (thanks to an anonymous informant):
Robert K. Walsh, dean of the Wake Forest University School of Law, announced recently that he plans to retire as dean next summer. Walsh, who will complete 18 years as dean in 2007, will remain at the School of Law as a full-time professor of law starting with the 2007-2008 academic year....
He has seen the School of Law through a major transition in faculty, with more than half of the current faculty joining the school during his tenure.
"I've been privileged to participate in developing the best law faculty in America," Walsh said.
This one tops UCLA's ludicrous claim to be "emerging as the strongest law faculty in America"! Of course, we should allow a retiring Dean some over-the-top hyperbole, and acknowledge that during Dean Walsh's tenure the school's faculty was significantly strengthened, with strong additions like Michael Green (torts, products liability) from the University of Iowa, Mark Hall (health law) from Arizona State University (who was then retained in the face of an offer from Penn), Steve Nickles (commercial law) from the University of Minnesota, and Sidney Shapiro (administrative law) from the University of Kansas. One of Dean Walsh's biggest coups was the recruitment of Michael Perry (constitutional law) from Northwestern University, though he has since left for a prestigious chair at Emory. So kudos to Dean Walsh for significantly strenghtening the Wake Forest faculty, even if it is not the "best" in America.
April 14, 2006
The "Over-Hyped Law School Press Release of the Year"?
A colleague elsewhere sent a link to this under the heading, above. The title of the press release from the Thomas M. Cooley Law School conveys the flavor: "Cooley’s Astounding Record-Breaking Pace Continues." Astounding, indeed.
November 04, 2005
Sextonism Watch: The University of Texas School of Law (!?!?)
It was bound to happen! A student, who asked to remain anonymous, writes:
I nominate the University of Texas as this week's violator. Check out the hyperbole in the faculty introduction:
The University of Texas School of Law has long had one of the outstandingfaculties in the nation, both in terms of the scholarly distinction of the faculty members and their success in the classroom. UT's recent recruitment of leading senior scholars from Stanford, NYU, and Michigan has pushed the school in to the very top ranks of American law faculties.
"Very top ranks?" According to whom? Surerly even you would consider this an exaggeration.
To which I replied in relevant part:
Touche! ...but, "very top ranks" is somewhat ambiguous: if "very top ranks" means, top ten, then [with respect to faculty quality] it's not even hyperbolic; if it means Yale/Harvard/Stanford/Chicago, then it is. Thomson ISI most recently ranked the Texas law faculty #2 in scholarly impact (which strikes me as suspiciously high, but that's a different matter), partly because of some of these new appointments. So maybe there's a defense...
And, indeed, the full text from the faculty introduction does cite some pertinent supporting evidence:
Science Watch (2002), for example, now ranks the law faculty 5th in the nation for scholarly impact based on citations to faculty work. A 1996 Chicago-Kent Law Review study found that articles by Texas faculty were cited more often by the courts than articles by any other law faculty in the nation. More than one-third of the faculty is elected to the American Law Institute (one of the highest percentages of faculty membership in the nation). Texas is one of only nine law schools in the United States with four faculty elected to the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, the nation's most prestigious learned society.
In any case, the student generously replied:
Very fair response from someone whom I admire greatly. Texas is certainly a terrific school, but as with others, seems to have used ambiguity to protect itself. I didn't really bat an eye when I read the claim, given the quality of the school and the obvious Sextonism that abounds elsewhere, but I thought it made for interesting discussion...
If at one Sextonism extreme is UCLA, and at the other Chicago, then perhaps Texas falls somewhat closer to the Chicago end of the Sextonism spectrum. Kudos to my correspondent for unearthing the evidence!
September 30, 2005
Sextonish Watch: New York University School of Law (Again!)
The Sextonism Watch goes back to the source, as it were, with this week's nomination from a professor who asked not to be named. From the NYU Law School's announcement of its new capital campaign, the nominator singled out two remarks:
"The funds will be used to increase the size of the faculty by continuing to recruit and support the leading legal scholars in the nation and the world"
Once again, that old definite article pushes this into the realm of ludicrous hyperbole: could one not say what is true, namely, that the school tries to hire leading legal scholars, sometimes even succeeding in hiring the leading scholars in certain areas (e.g., the recruitment of Joseph Weiler from Harvard)? The second quote singled out by the nominator:
"We have offered an unequalled education in U.S. law in conjunction with an unmatched exposure to international legal systems"
An unequalled education in U.S. law? What exactly does NYU think is going on at every other top law school? Even putting aside NYU's rather bad reputation for the quality of teaching (such reputations are, of course, always hard to assess), isn't it rather clear that one gets a better education in law and economics, for example, at Chicago, Harvard or Yale? A better education in constitutional law at Yale or Texas? A better education in social scientific approaches to law at Berkeley, Michigan, or Cornell? There are probably just two areas where NYU genuinely offers "unequalled" educational opportunities for students, namely, international law and tax.
To be fair, it should be noted that NYU has been on much better public behavior under Dean Revesz than it ever was under John Sexton, for whom these watches are, of course, named. And these statements come, of course, from the announcement of a capital campaign, where it is necessary to excite donors through puffery. If this kind of ludicrous hyperbole started turning up, again, in materials prepared for academics or students, one might worry that the Sextonism bug really was no longer dormant in Greenwich Village.
September 23, 2005
Sextonism Watch: The University of North Carolina School of Law
A student at a New York area law school writes:
Despite my affection for Chapel Hill, I'm nominating the UNC School of Law's website for this week's award. Consider its claims: "Carolina Law's student body is among the most highly credentialed and intellectually diverse in America" and "Carolina Law's alumni network, as you might imagine, is one of the strongest to be found anywhere."
First, it's entirely unclear how anyone measures the intellectual diversity *of a student body* (as opposed to faculty). Undergraduate major? Fair enough, but I question if UNC has access to this data or has taken the time to run the analysis. The "most highly credentialed" claim is, on its face, wrong. Finally, while the alumni network is strong within North Carolina, one has difficulty finding UNC-trained lawyers in the major markets in the Northeast and West.
The Sextonism project is clearly valuable: When I was applying to law schools I would often be taken by this sort of language, assuming that no reputable law school would so wrongly inflate itself. Perhaps by ferreting out misrepresentations some schools will quit it.
Let's hope so! I'll note that UNC's hyperbole is, of course, phrased in such a way that it admits of interpretations for which there may be support. To say the student body is "among" some class of student bodies in terms of credentials and diversity is silent on the size of the class it is "among"--perhaps it is meant to include three or four dozen law schools? To say the alumni network is one of the "strongest...to be found anywhere" might mean not that it is widely dispersed, but that it is unusual in its devotion to the school and its graduates. (To be sure, the site follows up the claim about "strength" with this: "Our graduates dominate the legal institutions of this state and occupy positions of leadership around the country and across the globe.") Of course, one suspects the ambiguity in the statements was not unwlecome, and that the New York student's reading of them is one of the natural ones.
August 26, 2005
Sextonism Watch: University of Minnesota Law School
Has all ludicrous hyperbole already been purged from the legal academy? Recent nominations have been fine instances of somewhat misleading puffery, but no nominations the past two weeks match our first winner(s). So perhaps we'll have to relax the criteria a bit: ludicrous hyperbole will continue to qualify, but misleading self-presentations will also warrant comment. And on that basis, the Sextonism Watch prize this week goes to to the University of Minnesota Law School for this:
Our faculty ranks in the top dozen nationally as some of the most productive and influential scholars in legal education.
It is true that at one point Minnesota did rank in the top dozen in both productivity and influence (i.e., scholarly impact as measured by citations)--for example, in my 2000 article in the Journal of Legal Studies on "Measuring the Academic Distinction of Law Faculties," which was based on data from the late 1990s. But that was before the three most-cited faculty (by wide margins), who were also three of the five-or-six most productive faculty left: Daniel Farber and Philip Frickey went to Berkeley, and Suzanna Sherry went to Vanderbilt. In the most recent study of scholarly impact or influence, for example, Minnesota ranked 25th--this without Farber, Frickey, and Sherry. (In a study completed last month, that will be published in the fall, Minnesota ranks a bit higher, but still not in the top twenty.) I know of no productivity studies since, but I'd be surprised if the results were much different (Minnesota is more likely to remain in the top twenty in productivity, since highly prolific faculty like Jim Chen, Michael Paulsen, and Michael Tonry, among others, remain). To be in the top 20-25 for productivity and influence is impressive, indeed; to claim, in the present tense, that the faculty is in the top dozen is just false.
It's perfectly proper, I think, for a school to cite studies that support the school's claims about itself. But may I suggest as a guideline that schools provide the dates of those studies--as, for example, Cornell does in mentioning scholarly impact studies showing its faculty to rank very highly. It is true Cornell does not mention that recent losses of Martha Fineman to Emory and Jonathan Macey to Yale would change those results significantly--in a study we'll be releasing soon, Cornell is no longer in the top ten for scholarly impact. But that omission is less egregious, I think, than talking in the present tense about something that is clearly no longer true about a school's faculty.
Remember: new nominations for Sextonish Watch are welcome. Sources may remain anonymous, if they choose.
August 13, 2005
Sextonism Watch: University of Michigan Law School
MOVING TO THE FRONT FROM FRIDAY, AUGUST 12: NEW UPDATE!
And our first "winner" (from a nominator who asked not to be credited) in our on-going effort to purge ludicrous hyperbole from the legal academy is the University of Michigan Law School, which welcomes prospective students on a public web site with the following Sextonian overstatement:
The law comes alive [here] because of our faculty. Our scholar-teachers are of a quality and breadth unsurpassed in legal education. The grand stone walls of our School prove permeable, as for the past several decades our faculty has become internationally renowned for their interdisciplinary approach to the study of law and legal institutions. My colleagues display a broader range of academic interests and expertises than you will find in any other law school.
Since the bolded lines simply aren't true, and are surely known not to be true by everyone at Michigan, why say them?
Nominations for future Sextonism watches are welcome.
UPDATE: The plot thickens, since alert readers have pointed out to me that the University of Pennsylvania law
faculty is [also!] unparalleled in the depth and breadth of their intellectual interests, the quality and magnitude of their scholarship, and their dedication to teaching.
Moreover, the Harvard Law School faculty is
home to the world's most intellectual interesting and diverse law faculty.
Now somebody here must be fibbing.
And don't forget, of course, that the UCLA law
faculty is [still] emerging as the strongest faculty in the country.
"Emerging," as Professor Brennan instructed us, is, though, a term of art here:
You don't appreciate the meaning of the word 'emerging.' 'UCLA School of Law is *emerging* as the strongest law faculty in the United States' has to be understood in line with such statements as:
'Saddam Hussein was an *emerging* threat to the United States.'
In other words, it's roughly a negation-operator, as in: 'Three is an *emerging* even number.'
Perhaps a similar gloss will explain how Michigan, Penn, and Harvard are all telling the truth about their faculties.
August 05, 2005
Back at the old digs, we defined "Sextonism" as follows:
[A]fter former NYU Law School Dean John Sexton (now President of NYU), [Sextonsim] is a disease familiar to law faculty, in which a good school suddenly lapses in to uncontrolled and utterly laughable hyperbole in describing its faculty and accomplishments to its professional peers. The NYU alumni magazine, which was sent to all law faculty nationwide, was so plagued by Sextonism that a Stanford professor memorably dubbed it "law porn."
At the time, we offered the following example of an outbreak of Sextonism:
Alas, another fine school appears to be stricken now: UCLA (whose new Dean, Michael Schill, has just moved from NYU--a fact which may simply be coincidental). A brochure has just arrived in faculty mailboxes nationwide announcing UCLA's "new faculty" hires--a good set of hires, as I've noted on two different occasions (here and here)--yet the brochure then spoils this fine accomplishment by placing it under the banner of the following laugh-out-loud proclamation:
"UCLA School of Law is emerging as the strongest law faculty in the United States."
What? What about Yale, Harvard, Stanford, Chicago, Columbia, NYU? Not close. What about Michigan, Virginia, Texas, Penn, Berkeley, Georgetown? Perhaps competitive in some ways, in other ways clearly not....
By a reliable measure of faculty quality UCLA ranked 14th before these appointments, and by an unreliable measure, it ranked 16th (in "reputation" among academics). The new appointments are, indeed, good ones, and together with recent losses at Cornell, Northwestern, and USC give UCLA a realistic shot at the top ten.
But "the strongest law faculty in the United States"! Yikes, that is embarrassing.
In the interest of purging the legal academy of Sextonism, I invite readers to nominate schools for outbreaks of Sextonism, and I will post one example each week on Fridays, until we have cleansed the legal academy of preposterous hyperbole. Send your nominations to me and be sure to include links and/or other documentation. Editorial comments are also welcome, and unless contributors specify otherwise, I will credit the nominators.