Paul L. Caron

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

SALT Calls for U.S. News Rankings Boycott

SALT The Society of American Law Teachers has called on law schools to boycott the U.S. News rankings

Each spring U.S. News & World Report issues its rankings of American law schools, exerting enormous pressure on deans and faculties to reshape admissions practices and divert scarce resources. One Dean, Alfredo Garcia from St. Thomas University School of Law, Miami Gardens, FL, refused to submit statistical data this year, becoming the first to boycott the rankings.

The Society of American Law Teachers—SALT—issued a statement today urging law school deans and faculty members to work with the American Bar Association—ABA—to reduce the influence of the U.S. News & World Report rankings. Download a pdf of the full Statement. Briefly, SALT states:

  1. Chief among the rankings’ ill effects is their impact on admissions decisions in general, and on diversity in admissions in particular. Because LSAT scores figure so prominently into the computation of a school’s rank, few schools are willing to compromise their ranking by accepting “nontraditional” students whose merit is measured in ways other than a single test score. ...
  2. The U.S. News rankings’ emphasis on LSAT scores directly undercuts a school’s ability to admit a diverse class. Given the well documented but little understood performance gap on standardized tests, the emphasis on LSAT scores necessarily impacts members of groups who under-perform on such tests. ...
  3. The U.S. News rankings’ emphasis on the LSAT also affects how law schools conceptualize merit in determining which of their applicants will be successful and proficient lawyers. Although the LSAT correlates to some small degree with first year performance in law school, neither the LSAT nor undergraduate GPA are indicators of ultimate success in the profession. Recent research reveals that there are alternate ways of assessing who is likely to be a successful attorney.

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I don't usually agree with SALT on the merits, but I admire them for taking principled positions. I think that, if some of the conservatives on law faculties were willing to do the same, they would be more effective and more respected. The rush of "conservative" faculty to kiss up to Elena Kagan, on grounds of personal ties or her making of conservative lateral hires, has been particularly unedifying: can one imagine SALT saying that sure, Robert Bork is a conservative, but he's a real nice guy so we endorse him?

Posted by: mike livingston | May 26, 2010 6:38:43 AM

Dear SALT, Are you admitting the best and brightest minds into law school or just admitting under qualified students based on the color of their skin or as you put it 'nontraditional students'? Plus, your statement that LSAT scores and GPA have no bearing on success is ludicrous.

Posted by: Whatever | May 26, 2010 9:32:53 AM

I quit the ABA years ago, when it became obvious that it had become a very left-wing organization, and not (to put it kindly) non-partisan. I have also noted that over the years the academics have abandoned teaching law and begun teaching polemics.

Posted by: jimb | May 26, 2010 10:01:01 AM

The SALT piece cites to a study enumerating 26 qualities that make for a successful lawyer, none of them, SALT points out, tested on the LSAT. These all seem like relevant qualities, but I find it hard to believe that the authors left out what the LSAT DOES test for. Holding everything else constant, of course you would (much) rather have an attorney with better reading comprehension, logical reasoning ability, etc.

Posted by: JD | May 26, 2010 10:15:17 AM

How utterly common; liberal lawyers complaining that something is less than perfect but refusing to say what would meet their approval. Whatever its flaws, US News' rankings is about the only place where one can compare across various grad-level schools.
If SALT were for academic excellence as their logo states, they'd want prospective students to have MORE infromation, not less.

Posted by: Duke | May 26, 2010 10:15:45 AM

Note that SALT describes itself as "A community of progressive lawyers" and its self described mission is to:

* make the legal profession more inclusive and reflective of the great diversity of this nation
* enhance the quality of legal education by advancing social justice within the curriculum and promoting innovative teaching methodologies
* extend the power of law to underserved individuals and communities

It claims:

"The U.S. News rankings’ emphasis on LSAT scores directly undercuts a school’s ability to admit a diverse class"

No it doesn't. Any given school can still admit anyone it pleases by whatever admission criteria and policy it sets up. Its up to any school to decide how much it wants to play the USNWR ranking game vs doing what it believes to be correct with respect to its own admissions.

Does SALT have objective evidence showing that *ITS* ranking criteria works better than USNWRs? Can they point to a specific school that admits students the way they think the process "should" be run, makes great law school graduates, yet is poorly ranked? Probably not.

"The U.S. News rankings’ emphasis on LSAT scores directly undercuts a school’s ability to admit a diverse class. Given the well documented but little understood performance gap on standardized tests. . ."

Its the hoary "standardized tests are racist" argument, only here presented in a more diplomatic way.

I think many of the reasons for different testing performance levels among different applicant groups are fairly well understood, though its impossible to grasp them with politically correct blinders on, and mere mention of them is so toxic in the politically correct world of academia that it literally ends academic careers.

Posted by: Looking closely | May 26, 2010 10:16:24 AM

So, if I'm understanding this right, they're demanding that any objective definition of merit be dropped from evaluations. Well, I'll go the liberal law professors one better. How about we drop the requirement of being a law school graduate to take the bar exam?

Posted by: Bill Dalasio | May 26, 2010 10:23:52 AM

So in other words the Law Profs want to expand affirmative action. Sad.

Posted by: EconRon | May 26, 2010 10:28:29 AM

>>> Recent research reveals that there are alternate ways of assessing who is likely to be a successful attorney.

Right, like the color of a person's skin. As Martin Luther King Jr once said: "Please do not judge me by the content of my character, judge me by the color of my skin. It's brown, see? Now ignore my test scores and let me into law school!"

Posted by: John | May 26, 2010 10:36:33 AM

I like it. So depaul will start spitting out complex corporate litigators that can compete with harvard's bottom of the barrel barely graduated nepotists. If you are bright-minded you will find the faculty that can best allow you to develop your abilities. And if you weren't born with the skill-set to tell the winners from the losers, you rely on the US news and world report rankings to guide you to the school that allows the ABA to tell you how to think. Or rely on standardized testing and checklists to put a label on a social security number. You could almost imagine that the best schools have the faculty with the best ability to recognize the potential in applicants, regardless of how (good or bad) the applicant's background looks on paper. As in, people of impeccable character are able to recognize others of impeccable character. And police officers tend to see a world populated by criminals, while ER nurses are familiar with donorcycles and the frailty of the human condition. So, if this change encourages people that believe they couldn't do better than number 60 to shoot for number 1, go for it. But if a student were destined to be the best of the best in terms of job performance, do you believe they would surround themselves with fellow students that had LSAT scores in the ballpark of 150? Way more to law than document review, dancing with legalese, long hours, the performance aspect of court and depositions, and getting your JD. Or is there? Is the artist that creates to make the art critic happy (or to make money) really an artist?

Posted by: Kyle | May 26, 2010 11:03:28 AM

I went to one of these highly-ranked law schools. Believe me, a dearth of diversity admits was not in evidence. What was plain to see what that plenty of students were there who wouldn't have been if not for their skin color. The worst part was that a semester in, these students realized it too.

Posted by: Day Old Bread | May 26, 2010 12:01:38 PM

Let me start by saying that I agree with SALT that US News and World Report has way too much influence over our country's legal education. Anymore, the schools teach to the rankings instead of educating future lawyers thereby giving US News (a freaking magazine) de facto control over legal education. This is beyond ludicrous.

That being said, my brain automatically turned off when I saw, "Chief among the rankings’ ill effects is their impact on admissions decisions in general, and on diversity in admissions in particular." What the hell is this crap? What discernible value (i.e. real value, not merely self-laudatory or aesthetic value) does admission diversity have to do with creating competent lawyers.

This diversity quotient combined with affirmative action policies is possibly the largest crime against blacks and other minorities in legal education. Law school admissions is about determining who can and who is not likely to pass the state bar upon completion of law school. Sounds rough, but it is to save the person the expense of 3 years of legal education ($60k -$100k) and 3 years of lost opportunity cost preparing for a career field in which they will never participate. Contra that against the bar passage rates among minorities in general and you see the true value of this "diversity"...minorities in tough situations to begin with now saddled with crushing debt and no hope of recouping that investment in the field that necessitated the debt to begin with. One need only compare the general bar passage rates with the minority passage rates to understand the gravity of this problem.

"Diversity" advancement is robbing some of the brightest minorities of their future and, therefore, robbing minority communities from a great number of potential leaders and agents of change.

Posted by: Smack | May 26, 2010 12:11:23 PM

Although I'm sure that the term 'nontraditional students' is probably usually code for affirmative action, there are other types of students affected by the focus on LSAT/GPA, especially since GPA only includes the first undergraduate degree completed. Once that figure is locked in, an applicant could go on to obtain a Ph.D and a Nobel Prize, but the rankings will only show the GPA. Post-grad degrees, work experience, military service--none of that ever makes it into the equation. Screw up your first run at school, and you're out.

Posted by: Dustin | May 26, 2010 12:58:48 PM

Salt: I'd like to see some numbers, know, some math to back up that marshmallow newspeak. Those three arguments are just plain gobbledgook until backed up by some results. Until then, it's typical libspeak.

Posted by: Techni-Type | May 26, 2010 2:05:38 PM

Don't kid yourselves. This is completely about wanting to avoid the responsibility for their actions. They don't want to be ranked. They don't want an objective outsider to give them a grade.

Posted by: setnaffa | May 26, 2010 3:01:07 PM

Wouldn't bar exam results be the best indicator of a law school's quality? Isn't that painfully obvious?

Posted by: Seven Machos | May 26, 2010 10:17:02 PM

Thanks to the legal education bubble, the only criterion for ranking law schools should now be percentage of students offered jobs before graduation. At real law firms, making oh I don't know, at least $50K a year.

This ranking should be payback to all the suckers graduating from sub-tier law schools with six-figures of debt. After all, the only thing those schools cared about was the ability of their students to get student loans.

Posted by: joeindc44 | May 27, 2010 2:06:45 PM