Friday, 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.

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