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June 30, 2008

Proposed Changes to US News Ranking Methodology...or Fiddling While Rome Burns

Bob Morse of U.S. News reports that the magazine is considering two rather modest changes to its ranking methodology:  first, including part-time JD students in its calculation of median GPA and LSAT; and second, using only the bar passage rate for ABA-approved law schools in calculating the relative success of a school's graduates on the bar.  As Mr. Morse mentions, the second change would have the biggest impact on the accredited California schools, which are helped by the fact that their bar passage rates are compared to a state-wide average that includes graduates of more than a dozen non-accredited law schools, most of whose graduates have much lower rates of success.  Since bar passage accounts for only 2% of the overall score, the effect of this change will be minimal.

Including part-time JD students in the GPA/LSAT calculation will, indeed, defeat one of the many gaming strategies that have emerged in recent years, but affected schools will presumably just increase their reliance on transfers to avoid taking too big a hit.  But including part-time students is also going to have pernicious consequences as well, given the way the US News tail wags the legal education dog.  For many, probably most, part-time programs serve older, working students, who might not have time for fancy LSAT prep courses, but who bring levels of dedication, seriousness, and pertinent experience that enrich legal education and the legal profession.  What a loss it will be if, out of fear of US News, schools start cutting back their part-time programs or rejecting these students whose numerical credentials might impede their crusade for a "higher ranking."  (As Dean Gary Simson of Case Western wrote on a listserve for law schools Deans--he forwarded it to me--perhaps these latest proposed modifications to the rankings should be "treat[ed]...as a wake-up call and....should cause us all to finally say 'enough' and that we are done participating in a ranking system that has done substantial harm and little, if any, good to legal education in the United States.  Even deans at the most highly ranked schools -- those schools that today appear to be winning in the rankings game -- should recognize that they have a major stake in abandoning a system that, at some magazine editors' whim, could be suddenly revamped in ways that could send those schools plummeting from their lofty perch."  What say you Dean Koh?  Dean Kagan?  If Yale and Harvard publicly opted out of US News, this would have a dramatic effect.)

What is perhaps most striking about these two proposals for change is how modest they are, how they barely scratch the surface of the litany of fatal problems now afflicting the U.S. News rankings.  I reviewed these problems in my open letter several months ago, and Mr. Morse indicated previously that he would address these issues.  I hope he will still do so.   I know many Deans and faculty contacted Mr. Morse at that time; I would urge them to do so again.

Posted by Brian Leiter on June 30, 2008 in Rankings | Permalink | TrackBack

June 28, 2008

Ralph Nader Was Not a "Spoiler"

A good explanation of the point here by the philosopher David Braybrooke.  "Liberal" law professors, who often make this reckless charge, would do well to read this posting.

Posted by Brian Leiter on June 28, 2008 in Of Academic Interest | Permalink | TrackBack

June 27, 2008

A Puzzle About Heller


Posted by Brian Leiter on June 27, 2008 in Jurisprudence | Permalink | TrackBack

Discussing John Yoo and Academic Freedom on the Radio

I'll be on KFPA in Berkeley this morning (9:10 am Central Time, 7:10 am California time, 10:10 am New York time) discussing the John Yoo case (my views here) with Sharon Adams from the National Lawyers Guild.  The NLG, for reasons given here, thinks Berkeley should investigate Yoo.  I am disappointed the NLG has taken this position, for reasons we'll discuss on the air.  There are some pleasant ironies here:  I have been the faculty advisor for the student chapter of the NLG at the University of Texas School of Law for the past decade, and the student chapter was started by two students, one of whom, Carlos Villareal, is now Executive Director of the San Francisco NLG and author of the letter linked above!  I admire both the NLG and Carlos, even though I think they are on the wrong side of this particular issue.

UPDATE:  One can listen to the discussion here, it starts about ten minutes in.

Posted by Brian Leiter on June 27, 2008 in Of Academic Interest | Permalink | TrackBack

How *Not* To Improve Your Law School's Ranking in US News

Amusing story here.

Posted by Brian Leiter on June 27, 2008 in Rankings | Permalink | TrackBack

June 26, 2008

Moran from Berkeley to UC Irvine

Rachel Moran, a leading figure in education law and Critical Race Theory and a longtime member of the law faculty at the University of California, Berkeley, is joining the founding faculty of the new law school at the University of California at Irvine, according to a California newspaper (no on-line link available, I'm afraid).  Berkeley reports Professor Moran will be on leave next year, so perhaps she will return.  Other inaugural hires are to be announced soon.

Posted by Brian Leiter on June 26, 2008 in Faculty News | Permalink | TrackBack

June 25, 2008

The DOJ Report on the Politicization of Hiring

Sam Buell (Wash U/St. Louis) calls my attention to the new DOJ Report on the now notorious role that ideological screening played in what used to be highly prestigious and merit-based positions for young attorneys in the DOJ; Professor Buell writes:

It's long and I've only skimmed it so far but it gives loads of concrete content to what many of us suspected about the recent perversion of DOJ's hiring practices involving our students.  The antipathy to selected law school organizations is interesting to see in black and white, though not terribly surprising.  I know we're supposed to welcome the Federalist Society everywhere for its wonderful contributions to intellectual diversity on campus but, when reading this document, it's hard not to fear--among some of its influential members--a sinister agenda with quite a long view to transform the bar into an organ that serves one particular set of ideological ends while cloaking itself in professionalism.  "We want our place at the head table!  ...  Right, thanks, now that we've got it, you can't have yours anymore."  I'm hard-pressed to think of a similar scenario, actual or even plausibly imaginable, involving members of a mainstream law organization that is left of center.  In any event, Michael Mukasey deserves ample credit for seeing that this investigation was done and that this report was published (of course, all that's only because some dogged critics managed to embarrass Alberto Gonzales out of the building).  For those of us who care a lot that the DOJ remain one of the nation's most important and revered legal institutions, this report is appalling but ultimately heartening and a meaningful step on the road back.

For those pressed for time, the charts on pages 22-33 tell most of the sordid story.  The question now is whether these positions can recover their previous professional cache, or whether they will be tainted for years to come.

Posted by Brian Leiter on June 25, 2008 in Legal Profession | Permalink | TrackBack

June 23, 2008

Stanford Adopts Yale Grading (i.e., No-Grade) System

Story here.  I visited at Yale in 98-99, and it was clear then that there were just two real grades:  Honors and Pass.  I did, however, give a Low Pass, and I also failed a student who plagiarized, but this clearly made the administration nervous.  (Me:  "I assume you will back me up in failing the student for plagiarism."  Associate Dean:  "Well, umm, this is a delicate situation.")  But this was plainly bad grading behavior on my part.  The no-grade system had one unfortunate consequence:  it meant about a third of the students were "checked out" intellectually from law school, since once they were admitted to YLS, nothing really mattered, since there were, de facto, only two grades, "honors" and "pass," and it took real perverse effort (e.g., plagiarizing) not to pass.  On the other hand, this was easily offset by the intellectually intense majority at the law school, who were always eager to engage.  Stanford recruits an outstanding student body, but it is, like every other law school in the U.S., less selective than Yale, so there is a real question what the effect of essentially eliminating grades will be there.  Time will no doubt tell whether this was a sound experiment or not.

Posted by Brian Leiter on June 23, 2008 | Permalink | TrackBack

June 22, 2008

Wagner to Split Between Texas and Case Western

My esteemed Texas colleague Wendy Wagner (environmental law), perhaps the nationĀ“s leading authority on the use of science in environmental policy making, will, for personal reasons, begin teaching part-time at Case Western Reserve University, from which we recruited her in 2001.  The Case Western press release is here.

Posted by Brian Leiter on June 22, 2008 in Faculty News | Permalink | TrackBack

June 20, 2008

How Special Interests are Corrupting Public Health Research

This important book by my Texas colleagues Thomas McGarity and Wendy Wagner deserves a wide readership.

Posted by Brian Leiter on June 20, 2008 in Of Academic Interest | Permalink | TrackBack