Law Schools, Minority Issues, U.S. News

Adding ‘Diversity’ to U.S. News Rankings Wouldn’t Accomplish Much

For all you know, everybody in this picture hates each other and are about to engage in gladiatorial combat.

We all know how important the U.S. News Law School Rankings are to our system of legal education. The jobs of law school deans depend on the rankings, and they therefore significantly impact what law schools are willing or able to do. It’s crazy that a for profit magazine has so much power over the future of legal education, but that power is well established and undeniable.

Given the importance of U.S. News, I understand why diversity proponents want the publication to start counting “diversity” as a data point when compiling the annual rankings. If you want law school deans to pay attention to something, you have to use small words and speak in the language of U.S. News. If the magazine started caring about law school diversity today, law schools would really start caring tomorrow.

But that doesn’t mean including a “diversity” component in the rankings would be a good idea. That’s just a half measure (and a confusing one to boot) that doesn’t get the heart of any kind of real problem…

A story in the National Law Journal highlights a proposal from the The State Bar of California to U.S. News rankings guru Bob Morse. They want “diversity” to account for 15% of the overall U.S. News rank for schools.

The immediate question I have is “what the hell do you mean by ‘diversity’?” So now I have something in common with Bob Morse:

However, devising a credible measure of diversity is easier said than done, said U.S. News director of data and research Bob Morse. He has yet to see the council’s proposal, which is scheduled to be completed in the spring, but one of the problems that consistently crops up in diversity discussions is that there is no clear way to compare the diversity of a student body of a school in an ethically diverse state such as California to the diversity in a largely white state such as Kansas.

“What benchmark do you use?” Morse said. “To us, that’s not a little point. Should it be relative to the population of the state? How do you deal with private schools? Would the benchmark for UCLA and Michigan be the state they are in, or would it be national? It would be a very sophisticated analysis.”

As Chris Rock once said: “Black people are only in 9 places in this country: New York, L.A., D.C… Ain’t no black people in Minnesota…” It would be wrong to ding the School of Backwoods Panhandle Law in Northern Florida because they weren’t as “diverse” as Miami School of Law. And that’s in the same state. Comparing the level of diversity achievable in Manhattan, New York, versus Manhattan, Kansas is just silly.

As many of you know, I believe that diversity is a positive educational good in its own right. I believe that all else being equal, most intelligent deans would want to have a diverse student body because a diverse student body leads to better education for all of the students.

The problem with U.S. News (if there is one) is that all else is not equal, because U.S. News places way too much importance on LSAT scores. The LSAT measures past achievement, not future success. It can’t measure future success because there’s no way to account for how a person will react if he or she is able to secure a new opportunity.

If you want to increase the diversity of law schools, then attacking the LSAT is a much more direct method than pumping up some kind of tortured “diversity score.”

The California bar only understands half of what I’m saying:

The council’s proposal recommends reducing the weight of the quality assessment to 20%, and reducing the weight of selectivity to 20%, in part by lowering the weight of the median LSAT score. Placement success would remain at 20% while faculty resources would increase to 20%. A new category of academic support for students would account for 5% of rankings.

The biggest change, however, would be the addition of a new diversity category that would evaluate what schools are doing to promote diversity on campus.

“Diversity assessments should not be limited to admissions and student body demographics,” the proposal reads. “Instead, diversity should also be measured by the support and resources provided by the institution to foster an inclusive culture and climate in which students from diverse backgrounds can excel.”

Really? You think fostering an inclusive culture and climate can be reduced down to a data input? That’s dumb. It’s dumb to try. Trying accepts the premise that everything worth doing in life can be expressed in a numerical equation that can spit out an “objective” score.

I don’t accept that premise. I don’t want to pretend that a magazine can rank the “inclusiveness” of a law school campus. It can’t and any “results” will be compromised by the futility of the effort.

And that doesn’t even get into the question of (hello, commenters) whether or not diversity should be something we look at when assessing the quality of law schools. I think it’s important, but reasonable people disagree:

Moreover, there is still a question of whether diversity should be included in the rankings, given that the purpose of the rankings is to identify the best schools, he said.

“Another part of the debate is to what degree diversity is linked to academic quality versus being an important social goal,” Morse said.

Here’s what I can say with full confidence: diversity is a very important issue of objective academic quality to me. It was also an important factor for most of my friends (black, white, or other) and most of my colleagues. Most of the people I associate with do not want to learn or work in an homogeneous environment. Other people disagree.

Which is why I don’t base major decisions in my life based on a freaking list published in a magazine! Come on, people. The U.S. News ranking is a factor, but there are other factors when choosing an institution of higher learning. Some people think that the attractiveness of the student body should factor heavily into their decision on where to go to school. Those people aren’t wrong. They’re making a choice that if they have to spend three years in a place, they’d rather spend it around as many hotties as possible.

And you know what? Some people learn better when they are constantly getting hot sex instead of having their entire life dominated by books and outlines. One person’s academic distraction is another person’s academic imperative.

There’s been a lot of talk about that silly Malcolm Gladwell piece in the New Yorker about U.S. News rankings. Gladwell’s mistake is the same one that the California bar is making here. It is DUMB to think that one law school ranking can encompass everything you need to know about which law school to go to. It’s impossible. Instead of asking U.S News to include more, and more factors, let’s just stop paying so much goddamn attention to the U.S. News Rankings! The elephant in the room is prospective students aren’t being sufficiently educated or informed about their potential options and end up relying on these rankings to the exclusion of all else.

Let’s work on that. Because once prospective law students stop worshiping at the altar of U.S. News then law deans will start speaking to what the students want, instead of what the magazine wants.

That’s the goal, the rest of this is just a sideshow.

California Bar wants ‘U.S. News’ to add diversity as factor in law school rankings [National Law Journal]

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