Thursday, March 14, 2013

Oh, come on (with an update to a really good article about the rankings).

The students at the law schools that are calling for their deans to get fired due to changes in their USNWR ranks (see here) are exhibiting misplaced anger.  Most of the variables that go into the rankings are out of a school's control.  It's the faculty, not the dean, that will affect the reputational ranking, but the reputational score is based on such a flawed process (and small n) that it's ludicrous to blame the faculty for any reputational ranking problems, either.  Admissions?  Selectivity?  Schools pick from a pool of applicants.  They can't control the inputs.  If they have scholarship funds to lure folks away from other schools, great, but scholarship funds aren't infinite.  Bar passage?  Some of it's "us"--how and what we teach--but some of it isn't (whether someone studies).  Same with placement.  Some of it's "us"--are we sending well-trained, well-advised students into the job market?--but some of it isn't.  If students are calling for deans' heads because the deans lied about things like bar passage and employment statistics, I can understand their anger and frustration, and I share it.  If students are calling for deans' heads because they're sorry that they fell from x to x-10, then I'm not that sympathetic.  The USNWR numbers aren't an absolute value, they're relative, and relatively inaccurate, at that.  So law students who are gathering signatures to get their deans fired, you might want to think twice.

UPDATED 3/15/13:

And, for those law students scrambling for signatures on petitions, here's an extra thought:  take a look at this article by Professor Robert Jones.   He's done a very good job of discussing just how those academic reputation scores change--or don't--over time, and he suggests four interesting changes that might make those scores slightly less easy to "game."  Of those four suggestions, my favorite one's the last one, where he echoes Brian Leiter's call for an online survey that includes objective data about each school. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Yes, exhibiting anger based on the rank itself is absurd. Being displeased with selectivity in admissions, however, seems fair to me.

At a time of decreasing applications, law schools are faced with a choice–lower they number of students admitted or admit students of a lower caliber. Unfortunately, some schools, including my alma mater, have chosen the later path.

At a time when the majority of its graduates are having trouble finding employment, my alma mater is expanding, building an expensive new building, and is fueling this growth with students that wouldn't have come close to even making it to the waiting list 5 years ago.

Unsurprisingly, the school has taken a big hit in its USNWR ranking. Unsurprisingly, alums are really pissed about this. The USNWR ranking, it's arbitrary. Exact placements, who gives a darn. Slipping into 2nd tier status, with publicized data clearly showing a drop in standards of admission, that's different. That legitimately damages the reputation of the school and the value of our degrees.