There is a growing awareness on just how much the U.S. News law school rankings affect legal education in this country. Last fall, the Government Accounting Office reported that the rankings were a significant factor in the rising cost of legal education. Many have argued that the rankings create perverse incentives for law school deans. Now, some are arguing that the rankings have a negative effect on law school diversity:
U.S. News rankings guru Bob Morse lays out the argument against the rankings:
[Michael Sauder of the University of Iowa and Wendy Nelson Espeland of Northwestern University] also comment on the impact that the U.S. News law school rankings have had on law school diversity, and they give their views on the annual U.S. News law school diversity index. They say that “because rankings include selectivity statistics (LSAT scores, undergraduate grade point averages, and acceptance rates account for 25% of a school’s overall rank) that reflect racial, gender, economic and geographical differences, and because the ability to perform well under duress on a timed, standardized test is a highly restrictive form of merit, efforts to improve these statistics can threaten various forms of diversity. Notably, U.S. News’s diversity index is not factored into the overall rankings given to law schools but is presented separately, which hugely undercuts its impact.”
Of course, Morse doesn’t think the rankings negatively impact law school diversity.
U.S. News does publish a diversity index, but it doesn’t take diversity statistics into account for the overall law school rankings. Morse says there is a perfectly good reason for that:
U.S. News doesn’t incorporate its current diversity index into the law school rankings, because measuring how successful law schools are at achieving diversity is a very complicated issue that cannot easily be included in our rankings formula in a fair and meaningful way…. How should law schools be compared in ethnically diverse states like California and Florida, say, with those in far less diverse states like Maine and Kansas? U.S. News is willing to work with legal educators and others to develop such fair diversity yardsticks, but we cannot do it without outside assistance.
It’s valid to point out the difficulties in throwing up a diversity score that doesn’t take into account some of he issues Morse talks about. More to the point, it seems that Morse is inviting legal educators to help him out if they really feel U.S. News is having a deleterious effect on diversity.
But, to the extent that law schools admissions people seem overly concerned about LSAT scores, Morse argues that they needn’t be:
U.S. News believes that our law school rankings are not hindering diversity at law schools since we use the median (or midpoint) LSAT scores and undergraduate grade-point averages, instead of averages, as ranking factors. The median gives schools considerable flexibility to accept students with very low LSAT and undergraduate grades without lowering the school’s actual median LSAT and grade-point average–and in turn, without negatively affecting their U.S. News rankings.
Well, that point arguably misses the larger question: is the LSAT an appropriate measure of law school quality in the first place? There is a lot of literature available studying what the LSAT can measure, and what it cannot. While reasonable people disagree at the margins, most concede that the LSAT is a much better indicator of past academic achievement than future legal success. So are we using the LSAT because it does what we want it to, or are we using it because we haven’t been able to come up with anything better?
If it’s the latter, then maybe U.S. News should be just as skeptical of heavily weighting a school’s median LSAT score as it is of throwing in a random diversity score that doesn’t account for subtle yet important issues?
Have the U.S. News Law School Rankings Been Game-Changers in Law School Admissions? [U.S. News]
US News Rankings Czar: Our Methods Don’t Affect Law School Diversity [ABA Journal]
Earlier: New Villain in Law School Debt Tragedy