Friday, December 2, 2022
One of the most contentious areas of disagreement between U.S. News and law schools boycotting its rankings turns on whether student loan balances should be included in the rankings. Currently, a higher student loan balance counts against a law school in the rankings.
Student loan balances are apparently meant so serve as a crude proxy for the cost of law school. All else being equal, the more a law school costs, the higher the debt balance of graduating students. Thus, the rankings arguably incorporate both measures of quality and measures of cost.
There are two problems with this. First, all else is not equal. Students from wealthier families, or with more supportive parents or relatives, will graduate with lower student debt levels. Law schools can climb the rankings by admitting these students over students from less wealthy or less supportive families who are likely to incur more debt. If law schools do this, then law school will become less effective as an engine of economic mobility.
Even controlling for differences in household income, people from different cultural backgrounds have different patterns of saving and spending. To give a concrete example, one of my classmates returned from his summer working at a corporate law firm driving a shiny new BMW. I returned with lower student debt levels but no wheels. Our incomes and our familys' income and wealth levels were similar, but I came from a culture that placed a higher value on thrift, while he came from a culture that placed a higher value on luxury consumption as a method of displaying status. We lived together as roommates after graduation, and he chose the larger and more expensive bedroom in our two-bedroom apartment, while I chose the smaller and less expensive bedroom, consistent with our different value systems.
Law schools can adapt to the inclusion of student loans in the rankings by admitting more students from cultural backgrounds that prioritize thrift over those that prioritize luxury consumption. This emphasis on thrift would hurt ethnic, geographic, and class diversity.
Moreover, this means that student loan balances are a bad measure of the cost of law school.
Thursday, December 1, 2022
Penn State may reunify its two law schools--one in Carlisle, one on the main campus at University Park--with Carlisle being the main site for the law school
This is pretty dramatic, and faculty in University Park cannot be pleased, especially by this: "Whether any law school programming would remain at University Park or what would happen with the imposing, $60 million Lewis Katz Building, erected in 2009 as a home for the school, is uncertain."
Wednesday, November 30, 2022
Approximately 12 law schools, including Harvard, Yale, and Stanford, have refused to compile data to facilitate the U.S. News rankings.
Statements by the deans of the protesting law schools suggest that they hope to pressure U.S. News to modify its ranking system. This raises a fundamental question: What is the purpose of ranking law schools?
I would argue that there are three purposes of law school rankings:
- To help students choose which law schools to apply to, and which law school to matriculate to
- To help employers decide where to recruit employees and to help them compare different candidates for hire
- To place competitive pressure on law schools to use their resources to serve particular policy goals embedded in the rankings
These purposes can help guide discussion of what should ideally be included in law school rankings. If law schools hope to displace U.S. News, they will need to agree on an alternative ranking system or several rankings systems. This will be difficult given the collective action problems facing institutions that view each other as competitors.
The first purpose of rankings—informing students—presents an obvious problem. Students are heterogeneous in their life goals, their idiosyncratic preferences, and their reasons for attending law school. No one ranking system can capture these differences and serve all students well. A school that invests heavily in preparing students to pass the bar exam may be ideal for students who would otherwise fail, but wasteful for those who are likely to pass with a few weeks of studying. A school that pours massive resources into preparing students for the rigors of private practice may be a poor fit for students who intend to be stay-at-home parents or only work part-time after graduation. A school that emphasizes constitutional and criminal law may be a poor fit for students who view law school as their family’s ticket out of poverty and financial insecurity and are therefore only interested in lucrative areas of law with abundant employment opportunities. A law school that teaches only practical skills and doctrinal law may be a poor fit for those who wish to become law professors or who see law school as an opportunity to explore interesting theoretical questions.
In other words, there should not be a single ranking of law schools, but rather multiple rankings of law schools tailored to identifiable subgroups of students, as well as tools that help match students with the right law school for them.
...it will still #1 for graduates convicted of seditious conspiracy! I would love to see Mr. Rhodes's application file!
Tuesday, November 29, 2022
Dean Johnson's statement is here. At this point, the official boycotters are: Yale, Harvard, Columbia, Stanford, Berkeley, Michigan, Georgetown, Duke, Northwestern, UCLA, UC Irvine, and UC Davis. Chicago has declined to join the boycott, and Cornell's status is ambiguous. No word yet from NYU, Virginia, Penn, Texas, Vanderbilt, Southern California et al.
Unless there is a snowballing of boycott announcements this week, I suspect that the net effect on USNews.com's mischief will be minimal.
These are non-clinical appointments that will take effect in summer or fall 2023 (except where noted); (recent additions will be in bold.) Last year's list is here.
*Ifeoma Ajunwa (law & technology, race & law, employment law) from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill to Emory University.
*Vikram Amar (constutional law, civil procedure, federal courts) from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign (where he has been Dean since 2015) to the University of California, Davis (where he taught before moving to Illinois).
*Anya Bernstein (administrative law, civil procedure, law & society) from the University at Buffalo, State University of New York to the University of Connecticut (effective January 2023).
*Kristin Collins (immigration law, family law, federal courts, legal history) from Boston University to the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.
*Hanoch Dagan (contracts, torts, private law theory) from Tel-Aviv University to the University of California, Berkeley.
*Kelly (Dineen) Gillespie (health law, bioethics, torts) from Creighton University to Saint Louis University (effective January 2023).
*Andrew Hammond (civil procedure, administrative law, poverty law) from the University of Florida, Gainesville to Indiana University, Bloomington (untenured lateral) (effective January 2023).
*Neha Jain (international law, human rights, comparative law) from the European University Institute & University of Minnesota to Northwestern University.
*Courtney Joslin (constitutional law law & sexuality, employment discrimination) from the University of California, Davis to George Washington University.
*Shu-Yi Oei (tax) from Boston College to Duke University (effective January 2023).
*Lauren Sudeall (constitutional law, criminal procedure) from Georgia State University to Vanderbilt University.
Monday, November 28, 2022
Thursday, November 24, 2022
My own view is that the rankings distort academic decision-making, fail to adequately capture institutional quality, and create perverse incentives that are not in the best interests of students or the legal profession.
However, withdrawal from the rankings process will not have the desired impact that many assume that it will have. For one, U.S. News has said that it will continue to rank all law schools regardless of their level of participation. In addition, all law schools are already required to report most of the relevant data used in the rankings to the American Bar Association, and this information is publicly available by ABA rule. This includes LSAT, GPA, acceptance rate, yield, number of courses, faculty head count, average financial aid package, bar passage rates, career outcomes, and more. (This transparency regime was part of a laudable ABA effort to provide applicants with the information necessary to make informed decisions about pursuing a legal education.) Even financial reports about expenditures are publicly available in summary budgets that some universities publish online. The reality is that U.S. News & World Report is a journalistic enterprise, and they don’t need anyone’s permission, including mine, to publish a ranking, and they have ready access to information from the ABA and other public sources to construct their rankings.
Whether Cornell Law School ultimately “withdraws” or not from the rankings, what we need is a deeper and more searching conversation about the role that rankings play in law school life, the legal profession, and higher education generally.
Again, I think they're not joining the boycott, but I'm really not sure. Comments are open if any faculty from Cornell want to clarify.
Wednesday, November 23, 2022
The NYT story noted the other day foolishly invoked the nonsense category "top 14" in discussing schools that were declining to cooperate (UCLA's joining the boycott torpedoed that characterization). As UCLA Interim Dean Korobkin correctly noted, 80% of the input data is available to USNews.com without the cooperation of the schools. It will, however, be a lot more work for USNews.com to compile all this data on its own. The loss of "free labor" by the schools won't matter if only 15 or 20 schools are boycotting. If 100 or 150 schools are boycotting, that will be different, and could cause a logistical crisis for USNews.com.
Right now, ten law schools are boycotting. Because the first two--Yale and Harvard--are extremely prominent that has generated a lot of attention. But it will take more than ten to create a problem for USNews.com's annual mischief.
Tuesday, November 22, 2022
Monday, November 21, 2022
Michigan Law becomes 7th school to decline to cooperate with USNews.com rankings (UPDATED: also Duke and Northwestern)
Saturday, November 19, 2022
...but makes it pretty clear that if "the methodology is seriously overhauled" they may be back. Meanwhile, this NYT story reports that some schools--for example, Boston University and George Mason University--are not planning to withdraw. Both have done well in recent iterations of the USNews.com exercise, and without a brand name like "Harvard" to fall back on, the rankings give them free and helpful publicity.
Since it's clear not all law schools are going to withdraw, and since it's also clear USNews.com will continue to rank schools that do not cooperate (which has always been their practice), the question is whether if many or most top law schools withdraw that will undermine the (fake) legitimacy and influence of the rankings. My guess is it will not, and that many of those that withdraw now will return after some tweaking of the formula (most of the tweaks proposed, it must be noticed, would favor the schools asking for them).
Friday, November 18, 2022
And now there are four: Georgetown announces it will not participate in US News.com rankings (UPDATED)
Dean Treanor emphasizes the anti-public interest bias of the metrics, something mentioned by other schools.
(Thanks to John Coates for the pointer.)
MAKE THAT FIVE: Columbia Law School will also not cooperate.
USNew.com is not going to go gently into the good night it richly deserves, even if dozens and dozens of schools withdraw over the next week. 40% of the ranking consists in reputational surveys, that USNews.com controls, and even if the response rate drops, they will use what they can get (as they have done with the lawyer/judge surveys, where the response rate is 15% or less--it's gotten so low, they now average several years worth of results). Most of the other data in the ranking stew is available to the public via the ABA. (One data point that is not so available is expenditures, and it would be salutary if they had to drop that factor altogether, but more likely is that they would concoct estimates, which is how they standardly deal with non-cooperating schools.) It is true that USNews.com has long depended on schools doing the work for them: USNews.com rankings are a "lean" operation, one of the reasons they don't audit any self-reported data. If schools don't cooperate, this would be a lot more work for USNews.com but given that the law school rankings are, along with the college rankings, their most influential product, my guess is they will do what it takes to keep it going (especially because of the risk that the boycott might spread to the colleges).
One worry I have is that the objections so far (by Yale, Harvard, and Berkeley) will be taken as an invitation by USNews.com simply to jigger the formula a bit. In that regard, the objections voiced so far seem to me mistaken: the problem is that the entire formula is indefensible and meaningless. There is no explanation for why reputation is 40% and not 100% or 10%; there is no principled explanation for any of the weightings of any of the factors, and that's putting aside that a lot of the inputs are garbage data anyway. The problem with USNews.com is that their ranking formula makes no sense, and it has never made sense for 30 years. Objecting to this-or-that recent tweak to the formula is missing the forest for the twigs on the trees.
UPDATE: US News has announced, as expected, that it will continue to rank all schools regardless of whether they submit data. That has always been their approach in all their rankings.
Thursday, November 17, 2022
Dean Chemerinsky has issued this statement:
After careful consideration, Berkeley Law has decided not to continue to participate in the US News ranking of law schools. Although rankings are inevitable and inevitably have some arbitrary features, there are aspects of the US News rankings that are profoundly inconsistent with our values and public mission.
Berkeley Law is a public school, with a deep commitment to increasing access to justice, training attorneys who will work to improve society in a variety of ways, and to empowering the next generation of leaders and thinkers, many of whom will come from communities who historically were not part of the legal profession. We are also committed to excellence: in our programs, scholarship, financial support, research, and certainly among our students. We take pride in producing attorneys who are highly skilled, highly sought after, and dedicated to public service and pro bono. This is who we are.
November 17, 2022 | Permalink
If over the next week, most of the other top 10-20 law schools withdraw, USNews.com will be in trouble. It would undoubtedly be excellent for legal education if its current master were dethroned: schools could resume making all decisions--from admissions to expenditures--based solely on academic considerations. I recently mentioned three scenarios that might finish off USNews.com, but I hadn't thought of this one!
Wednesday, November 16, 2022
Kudos to Dean Gerken for withdrawing Yale Law School from the USNews.com ranking charade (UPDATE: HLS also dropping out)
Her explanation is here.
This creates an interesting strategic dilemma for both USNews.com and other law schools. USNews.com would seem to have good reason to "punish" Yale, much as the EU punished the UK for the stupidity of Brexit: to send a message about the costs, lest other schools follow suit. However, having elevated Yale for so long (thanks to the per capita expenditures measure), ranking it lower may not have any impact.
The bigger question is what other highly ranked schools will do. (It is far too risky for lower ranked schools to withdraw until more of the higher ranked schools have done so, it seems to me.) Will Stanford withdraw, even though it has been #2 for awhile now? I've not discussed this with anyone here, so have no insight about what Chicago will do. Harvard has been underranked by USNews.com for awhile, so has good reason to follow Yale. If most of the top law schools withdraw, then USNews.com, even if it produces a ranking, will lose credibility, even in the eyes of journalists who bear so much of the blame for giving it credibility it never deserved.
Thoughts from readers? Submit your comment only once, it may take awhile to appear.
UPDATE: Dean Gerken notes that the USNews.com formula effectively treats those in public interest fellowships (or PhD programs for that matter) as "unemployed." Noting that, Professor Dave Hoffman (Penn) has a more skeptical take on what's driving this move:
ANOTHER: Harvard Law School is also declining to cooperate with USNews.com. I'll post a link to a public announcement as soon as one is available.
That would be a tad expensive!
The lawsuit cites an 1878 agreement with the state of California to create and fund the law school, which promised Hastings’ heirs $100,000, plus interest, should the school ever “cease to exist.” One hundred forty-four years later, that would amount to $1.7 billion, the San Francisco Chronicle has reported.
Tuesday, November 15, 2022
I thought this was interesting and perceptive:
Behavioral changes occur as a side effect of something called operant conditioning, which is the underlying mechanism of social media addiction. This is the core mechanism analogous to the role alcohol plays in alcoholism.
In early operant conditioning, pioneered by famous behaviorists like B.F. Skinner, animals were given positive and negative feedback in the form of treats and electric shocks. The behavior of each individual animal was monitored so that the stimulus given was constantly optimized to a purpose. A similar scheme targets people through their phones today.
Monday, November 14, 2022
This essay notes a number of retirements, including some surprising ones, like the constitutional law scholar Steven Smith. (Larry Alexander, who is 79, is a less surprising retirement, although he is unquestionably the person singularly responsible for making USD a nationally recognized law faculty. He has also been badly treated in recent years, as I have noted previously.) San Diego's willingness in the past to hire "conservatives" has certainly allowed it to make some strong hires, although it also led to hiring some faculty who have proved notable mainly for being...conservative. I think the real hallmark of USD's success has been its willingness to "go its own way" on hiring, like hiring white guys in jurisprudence who weren't even on law review! USD--like Florida State, Cardozo and, at an earlier time, George Mason--has become one of those regional schools that top 20 law schools regularly raid because of its good eye for junior faculty talent. (Faculty who started at USD are now teaching at Virginia, Duke, Southern California, Cornell, Berkeley, and elsewhere.) Again, much of the credit for that goes to Larry Alexander.
Thursday, November 10, 2022
It seems like the writing is on the wall. The real driving force, that we're seeing across multiple fields, is concern that standardized testing hurts "diversity." If in fact the LSAT becomes optional, the next question will be what the masters of legal education at USNews.com decide to do. If they decide to just increase the weight on GPA, then expect a boom in communications and education majors among prospective law students seeking the highest possible GPA!
Wednesday, November 9, 2022
Lawprof Heidi Feldman (Georgetown) is maintaining a list of law faculty and lawyers migrating to Mastodon in the wake of the Musk takeover of Twitter. In a rather short time, there are more than 500 migrants! Could this be the end of law Twitter? Of Twitter? Will Mastodon prove better, or will it also turn into a cesspool of stupidity, narcissism, and self-promotion? I mostly use Twitter to post links to my blogs, and for now I'm staying put. But we'll see...
Tuesday, November 8, 2022
Monday, November 7, 2022
MOVING TO FRONT (ORIGINALLY POSTED NOVEMBER 24, 2009--I HAVE UPDATED CERTAIN NUMBERS)--SEE ALSO THE COMMENTS, WHICH HAVE HELPFUL ADDITIONAL SUGGESTIONS
With luck, some of you seeking law teaching jobs will get offers of tenure-track positions in the next couple of months; a handful of offers have already been extended this season (2022-23). What then? Here's roughly what I tell the Chicago job candidates we work with that they need to find out, and in the interest of having it written down in one place and for the benefit of others too, here it is (not in order of importance):
1. You will want to get (in writing eventually) the basic salary information, obviously, and the nature of summer research support and the criteria for its award (is it automatic for junior faculty? contingent on prior publication [if so, how much?]? awarded competitively (if so, based on what criteria/process)?). You should also find out how salary raises are determined. Are they, for example, lock-step for junior faculty? Fixed by union contract? (Rutgers faculty, for example, are unionized, a huge advantage and why they are among the best-paid faculty, not just in law, in the country.) Is it a 'merit' system, and if so is it decanal discretion or is their a faculty committee that reviews your teaching and work each year?
2. You should ask for a copy of the school's tenure standards and get clear about the expectations and the timeline. Does any work you have already published count towards meeting the tenure standard?
3. What research leave policy, if any, does the school have? A term off after every three full years of teaching is a very good leave policy; some schools have even better policies, most have less generous leave policies. (If there is a norm, it is a term off after every six years.) Many schools have a special leave policy for junior faculty, designed to give them some time off prior to the tenure decision. Find out if the school has such a policy.
4. One of the most important things to be clear about is not just your teaching load, but what courses you will be teaching precisely. You should ask whether the school can guarantee a stable set of courses until after the tenure decision. Preparing new courses is hugely time-consuming, and you also get better at teaching the course the more times you do it. As a tenure-track faculty member, having a stable package of, say, three courses (plus a seminar) will make a huge difference in terms of your ability to conduct research and write. In my experience, most schools will commit in writing to a set of courses for the tenure-track years (and do ask for this in writing), but some schools either won't or can't. In my view, it's a good reason to prefer one school to another that one will give you the courses you want and promise them that they're yours, while another won't--a consideration that overrides lots of other factors, including salary.