Tuesday, August 15, 2017
Richard Abel (UCLA), Book Review, 66 J. Legal Educ. 961 (2017) (reviewing Wendy Nelson Espeland (Northwestern) & Michael Sauder (Iowa), Engines of Anxiety: Academic Rankings, Reputation, and Accountability (Russell Sage Foundation 2016):
Wendy Espeland and Michael Sauder’s superb book Engines of Anxiety: Academic Rankings, Reputation, and Accountability offers an incisive, comprehensive, and devastating account of the ways in which U.S. News and World Report (USN) rankings influence law schools and the institutions with which they are enmeshed. The authors conducted interviews with 131 law school administrators and faculty members (carefully distributed across the status hierarchy), observed law school forums where admissions officers make pitches to prospective students, analyzed admissions and yield statistics, and collected extensive data from electronic bulletin boards, mass media, other informants, and law school websites and publications. They make sophisticated use of sociological theories of accountability to analyze their data. Given their persuasive demonstration that USN rankings powerfully shape both legal education and the profession, this is a book that should be read by every law school teacher, administrator, and prospective, current, or past student—which means every lawyer.
I am going to use the book as an opportunity to reflect on how this happened and what it portends. ... Rankings may indeed be the latest manifestation of Weber’s iron cage — a roach motel where you can check in but can never check out.