Honestly, we are not trying to pile on Michigan. We know how obsessed some of their students are with their U.S. News law school ranking. But perhaps the law school administration has taken things too far in their attempt to make Michigan the “champions of the west.”
From TaxProf Blog:
Michigan’s new Wolverine Scholars Program — in which [University of] Michigan undergrads with a minimum 3.80 GPA are admitted to Michigan Law School if they agree to not take the LSAT. The rankings benefit is that there is no LSAT score to report to U.S. News, while the minimum 3.80 GPA will boost Michigan’s median 3.64 GPA, which counts 10% in U.S. News’ methodology.
Look Michigan, if you are going to try to rig something, at least have the decency to do it under the cover of darkness.
To a UM college student with a 3.8, the Wolverine Scholars Program looks like an interesting example of game theory. But to the rest of us, it looks a straight bribe. It’s like Michigan Law School is saying: “Please, please, please don’t take the LSAT. Because if you get a 167 we probably have to accept you anyway. And if you get a 175 you will better deal us for a lobster dinner.”
The Big Ten strikes back, after the jump.
Writing out of Indiana University, Bill Henderson explains why Michigan’s program is a barefaced attempt to take advantage of the U.S. News rankings:
The lofty rhetoric of the Wolverine Scholar program cannot be squared with the unnecessarily rigid admissions criteria. In my opinion, the only rational explanation is that Michigan seeks a rankings payoff. Here, an elite law school sets a new low in our obsession of form over substances — once again, we legal educators are setting a poor example for our students….
More seriously, there are terrible externalities from this alleged merit-based program. It is impossible to deny that the Wolverine Scholars program will encourage students to (a) take easier classes and majors to avoid the need to take the LSAT to get into an elite law school, (b) discourage extracurriculars that will threaten the 3.8, and (c) make a lot of Michigan undergraduate professors miserable with complaints from students that their B+ or A- grade is going to blow their Wolverine Scholar application.
From a rankings perspective, what happens when you get 20, 30, or 40 candidates with 3.8+ UPGA and no LSAT score? From day 1 of admissions season, Michigan has much greater latitude to lock in higher median LSAT and UPGA numbers–because zero Wolverine Scholars are dragging down the LSAT and all are helping the UPGA numbers. Further, because of the idiosyncrasies of the USNWR rankings formula, see Ted Seto’s “Understanding the U.S. News Law School Rankings,” at the upper ranges, small changes in UGPA have a much greater sway on rankings that a single LSAT point. For example, in the simulation model that Andy Morriss and I created, a move from 3.64 to 3.66 has a greater effect than a move from 169 to 170. If Michigan can get to a 3.80 UGPA, they could tie with NYU at #5.
This ploy makes Michigan law school look far worse than any sandwich-stealing homeless person ever could.
The sad thing is that having instituted this program, the only people that can stop the wolverines are the statisticians over at U.S. News. We know they care about the integrity of their rankings, so we expect a swift response.
But it shouldn’t come to that, should it? We shouldn’t have to rely on a magazine (or a legal tabloid) to tell us which law schools are better, especially in an age where law school deans are openly trying to game the system.
We can debate whether the LSAT is too important in law school admissions, but the “let’s pretend that the LSAT is meaningless so long as you matriculate at Michigan” game is the worst kind of cynicism.
Update: For Michigan Law’s defense of this program, see here (item #4).
LSAT-Free Law School Admissions Can Goose U.S. News Ranking [TaxProf Blog]
Michigan’s New Admissions Policy [Legal Profession Blog]
Earlier: The Rankings Versus The Cash