« February 2021 | Main | April 2021 »

March 30, 2021

Derek Muller (Iowa) on the US News rankings disaster this year

Professor Muller's analysis and his recommendations are worth taking seriously.   I'm far from being against rankings, as readers know; but the US News rankings use mostly garbage data, aggregate it through a meaningless and indefensible formula, and create massive incentives for dishonesty and strategic behavior, that distort educational goals and values.  As Professor Muller suggests, we need massive non-cooperation to put Bob Morse & co. out of business.

ADDENDUM:  Some examples of perverse strategic behavior to game the rankings, from law professor Jeffrey Harrison (Florida).

Posted by Brian Leiter on March 30, 2021 in Rankings | Permalink

March 29, 2021

US News seems intent on driving home the fact that the ranking formula is arbitrary and meaningless

Yesterday, they issued the third correction to the embargoed rankings (which will be released tomorrow) in the last week!   Here's the explanation:

For the overall ranking, U.S. News removed the metric for ratio of credit-bearing hours of instruction provided by law librarians to full-time equivalent law students [.25%, reducing the library weighting to 1.75%] and increased the weighting for the bar passage rate indicator [by .25%, for a new total of 2.25%]. As a result, we recalculated the rankings.

Why these one-quarter of one percent adjustments?  Who knows?  Certainly not the US News.com editors.  But here's the real kicker:  this tiny change altered the rank of 35 law schools, including 9 in the top 30!  Imagine what might have happened had they decided the bar passage indicator should be 3.5%!

Is it possible to overstate the sheer stupidity of all this?


Posted by Brian Leiter on March 29, 2021 in Rankings | Permalink

Your annual reminder that movements in the US News.com rankings are almost all meaningless

With the new nonsense numbers about to appear, it's worth reminding everyone (and especially journalists) that:  95% of movement in the US News.com "overall" rank is attributable to (1) schools puffing, fudging or lying about the self-reported data more than their peers (or the reverse, for those schools that drop); or (2) simply being more aggressive at  manipulating the metrics they can control than their peers (or the reverse, for schools that drop in the overall ranking). 

Remember that US News.com audits none of the self-reported data on job placement, expenditures, student credentials, faculty-student ratios etc..   Schools can also inflate their rank by shrinking the size of their 1L class (thus improving median credentails), and taking more transfers or LLM students, among other "tricks of the trade."

Any journalist that reports a change in US News rank as "news" without further investigation of the underlying "data" is perpetuating a fraud on the public.

ADDENDUM:  As law professor Derek Muller (Iowa) reminds me, some movement this year will be due to the new criterion US News.com added:  5% of the total score will factor in a mix of average debt (for those students with debt) and the percentage of students with debt.  To make room for this, they arbitrarily reduced the weights of some of the other factors by small amounts (e.g., expenditures, student credentials) in their arbitrarily weighted stew of factors.  This change will, of course, lead to new forms of "gaming" the rankings, which I'll write about soon.

Posted by Brian Leiter on March 29, 2021 in Rankings | Permalink

March 23, 2021

Academic Freedom Alliance (AFA) statement on University of San Diego law professor case

A propos this, the AFA has issued an excellent statement.  USD Dean Schapiro, as an experienced administrator and academic, must surely realize his misstep here.

Posted by Brian Leiter on March 23, 2021 in Faculty News, Of Academic Interest | Permalink

March 22, 2021

Yet another, much more serious academic freedom violation at the University of San Diego School of Law

Readers may recall that the last USD Law Dean did not understand academic freedom, but his transgressions pale by comparison to this new incident with a new Dean, Robert Schapiro.

The background:   USD law professor Tom Smith posted about the alleged dischonesty of the Chinese government, including the possibility that the coronavirus emerged from a Chinese government lab in Wuhan.   Professor Smith quipped:  "If you believe that the coronavirus did not escape from the lab in Wuhan, you have to at least consider that you are an idiot who is swallowing whole a lot of Chinese cock swaddle."  I confess I'd never heard the phrase "cock swaddle" before, but in context the meaning clear:   the Chinese government is spinning and concealing information.

Unbelievably, students complained, misreading this as a slur aimed at Chinese people.  Even more remarkably, the Dean treated the complaint seriously and an "investigation" is allegedly under way.  

Faculty colleagues of Professor Smith wrote to the Dean as follows:

The faculty member in question made a political comment in forceful language. He has the right and perhaps the obligation as a citizen and an academic to comment on matters of public concern such as the Chinese government's handling of COVID, and to do so in evocative and forceful language. No fair, much less lawyerly way of reading what he wrote would conclude anything other than that "Chinese cock swaddle" was referring to propaganda of the Chinese government and surely not denigrating people of Chinese origin or descent. The context makes this perfectly clear.


Blog posts by academics fall within the bounds of academic freedom as defined by the AAUP. Student concerns about discrimination should always be considered soberly. Yet, an academic institution committed to free inquiry cannot allow misplaced accusations of bigotry to become an all-purpose tool for silencing critical comment. To allow such accusations to undermine academic freedom ultimately ensures an environment of fear and suspicion for all members of the academic community, undermining rather than ensuring a welcoming and respectful discourse. Describing the disputed comments in this case as "offensive language in reference to people from China" of a piece with "hate crimes directed against the Asian and Pacific Islander (API) community [and] racist commentary" inevitably creates the impression that judgment has been rendered in advance and the outcome of the promised review has been predetermined.


We are concerned that treating these complaints the way you are doing validates student reactions and strained interpretations that are misguided, that reflect a lack of critical thinking, and that will chill faculty members' teaching and scholarship. We sincerely hope it will be possible to work together to find a better way.

This is all well-said.   The Dean has made a serious error, which will mar his entire tenure if he does not reverse course quickly.   He should have pointed out to the students their error, and explained to them the core principles of academic freedom.  This isn't a close case.

(Thanks to Nadine Strossen for first calling this to my attention.)

UPDATE:  Here is the letter a student group sent to Professor Smith.   Rather than thinking that Professor Smith was deploying a slur against Chinese people, the students in fact think that there is a causal connection between his blog post and anti-Asian-American violence, such that he should apologize for speculating about this topic.  In a way, this is even more surprisng:  have the students learned so little about causation, harm, and responsibility in their legal education?

Posted by Brian Leiter on March 22, 2021 in Faculty News, Of Academic Interest | Permalink

March 16, 2021

Did Georgetown violate its own "free speech principles" in the case of the adjunct fired for offensive and racially charged remarks?

Almost all readers will have heard about this case (if not, see Blog Emperor Caron's coverage), but now a philosopher in the business school at Georgetown, who serves on the university's free speech committee, has called for the committee to investigate further what transpired.

Posted by Brian Leiter on March 16, 2021 in Of Academic Interest | Permalink

March 15, 2021

Reform of the American Presidency after Trump

Law professors Jack Goldsmith (Harvard) and Eric Posner (Chicago) discuss the topic with Dr. Donna Lyons (Law, Trinity College Dublin).

Posted by Brian Leiter on March 15, 2021 in Faculty News, Of Academic Interest | Permalink

The big increase in applicants to law schools this year (and the big increase in high-end LSAT scores)

Informative piece at the ABA Journal.  This bodes very well for the law teaching market in 2021-22, as does the impending end of the pandemic.  I wouldn't be surprised if next academic year more than 100 new tenure-track faculty were hired, a figure we haven't seen in a decade.

Posted by Brian Leiter on March 15, 2021 in Advice for Academic Job Seekers, Legal Profession, Of Academic Interest, Professional Advice | Permalink

March 10, 2021

Ashley Deeks (Virginia) and Francis Shen (Minnesota) win ALI early career Scholars Medal (Michael Simkovic)

The American Law Institute will award its Early Career Scholars Medal to Professors Ashley S. Deeks of the University of Virginia School of Law and Francis X. Shen of the University of Minnesota Law School. The award recognizes outstanding law professors whose work is relevant to public policy and has the potential to influence improvements in the law.  It's awarded to 2 professors (out of around 3,000 who are eligible) once every two years.

Deeks writes about national security, international law and foreign relations.  Shen writes about law and neuroscience, with a focus on criminal law and elder law.

The full announcement is available here.  This is the third win for Minnesota (Professors Schwarcz and Monohan are previous winners).

Previous years' ALI medalists have frequently been targeted for lateral hires shortly thereafter, including Jeanne Fromer (who moved from Fordham to NYU), Oren Bar-Gill (who moved from NYU to Harvard), and Michael Simkovic (who moved from Seton Hall to USC).

Posted by Michael Simkovic on March 10, 2021 in Guest Blogger: Michael Simkovic | Permalink

March 9, 2021

Another new faculty-edited journal: American Journal of Law & Equality

Here.  The editors are all Harvard Law professors:  Randall Kennedy, Martha Minow, Cass Sunstein.  They have not yet announced an editorial board.

Posted by Brian Leiter on March 9, 2021 in Faculty News, Of Academic Interest | Permalink