Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Misleading or Informing with Data about Graduates in Law Teaching?

We noticed a couple of weeks ago Michigan's surprising claims about alumni in law teaching, and now another reader has pointed out this from Columbia Law School:

Columbia Law School ranks third among law schools in the number of it's [sic] J.D. alumni in teaching positions at American law schools.

This is particularly striking, since after I called attention to Michigan's puffery, they revised the page to read:

Michigan ranks in the top 4 for the number of alumni teaching in U.S. law schools, and in the top 3 for tenure- and tenure-track positions.

Assuming both schools are using the same database (supplied by the AALS), then what it means is that if one looks at all those listed in the AALS directory--meaning clinical professors, legal writing instructors, various deans without academic positions, lecturers of various kinds, as well as emeritus faculty and regular tenure-stream academic faculty--Columbia has the third highest number of alumni listed, and Michigan has the fourth highest.  (Harvard is #1, and Yale is #2.)  When you look only at tenured and tenure-track faculty, then Michigan is #3 in total number of tenured and tenure-track faculty, while Harvard remains #1 and Yale #2.  This, of course, reflects those who graduated law schools from the 1940s onwards.

These results aren't surprising when one remembers that for much of the post-WWII period, Columbia was one of the top three law schools (up until the late 1960s, roughly), while Michigan was one of the top five (up until the 1980s, roughly).  Stanford emerged as a powerhouse in the 1960s (in part through raids on Columbia), while Chicago, long one of the top five or six, moved into the super elite ranks with the rise of law and economics, in which it played the pivotal role, in the 1970s. 

In addition, of course, Columbia and Michigan are nearly twice the size of Chicago and Stanford, meaning that they have graduated nearly twice as many students.  (Harvard is more than twice the size of Yale.)  As soon as you take that into account, you get the more familiar picture noted previously, and confirmed in more recent studies, in which Yale dominates (relative to its size) the market for law teachers, followed by Harvard, Chicago, and Stanford, and then a drop-off before the next cluster of schools, namely, Columbia, Michigan, NYU, Berkeley, and Virginia. 

Given the history, and the size differentials, the stats that Columbia and Michigan emphasize are not at all surprising.  This data is not, in short, wrong, but it is, arguably, a bit misleading to prospective students who have a strong interest in teaching careers.

Ludicrous Hyperbole Watch, Rankings, Student Advice | Permalink

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