Saturday, March 31, 2012

Blaming the wrong person.

As I'm reading this story, I'm getting deja vu.  Some students at U Conn's law school somehow believe that the soon-to-be-former dean caused a drop in U Conn's rankings.  How, exactly, would he have done that?  Let's guess:

1.  He called up future employers and told them not to hire U Conn graduates.
2.  He told his dean of admissions to pick some applicants on the basis of things other than UGPA and LSAT.
3.  He conspired with the 779 other people receiving the academic reputation survey to make sure that U Conn was not rated as highly as, say, Yale.  He also made sure that everyone who received the USNWR survey actually returned it.
4.  Ditto with the judges, lawyers, and law firms ranking the schools.
5.  And he cratered the economy, which dried up budgets and donations as if they were so many plums in direct sun in Death Valley.

The problem with the rankings is that deans have horrible choices--and very little power.  They could lie about their statistics.  They could make choices solely designed to maximize their USNWR rankings, without regard to any other effect those choices could have on the school.   Or they can work with their team to run the best school possible with the students, faculty, staff, alumni, and budgets that they have or could reasonably be expected to get.

If reputation is 40% of the score, then deans also have to wrestle with the halo effect, which will give some schools more of a bump than they might otherwise deserve.  ("School X must be better than School Y, because School X has been ranked more highly than School Y for years.")  Deans also have to wrestle with the fact that the other 194 schools being ranked aren't staying static, either. 

So when I read about Dean Paul stepping down, I think that he's being scapegoated.  U Conn students, remember this:  at some point, each of you may be in a position with a lot of responsibility but not a lot of power to effect change.  You'll be blamed for things that are not your fault.  And you'll feel just as frustrated as Dean Paul feels now.

Friday, March 02, 2012