Paul L. Caron

Friday, April 4, 2014

Diversity and Disgrace: How the U.S. News Law School Rankings Hurt Everyone

DiversityAnthony E. Varona (American), Diversity and Disgrace – How the U.S. News Law School Rankings Hurt Everyone, N.Y.U. Rev. L. & Soc. Change Blog (Apr. 3, 2014):

U.S. News and World Report recently released its law school rankings and, as happens every year, readers have focused almost exclusively on the many extreme fluctuations in ranks. ... Instead, or in addition, we should be asking more probing questions, like: Does the U.S. News measuring stick itself measure up? Is it measuring the right things? And what effects have the U.S. News rankings had on legal education and society itself? ...

[I]n light of how valuable diversity among students is to legal education, you might be wondering how much weight U.S. News devotes to student diversity in rating America’s law schools. Ten percent? Fifteen?

The answer is …  zero. The U.S. News ranking methodology ignores student diversity altogether in calculating the rankings. It treats a law school with little diversity as virtually indistinguishable from a very diverse school where pedagogically rich exchanges like those above abound.

For a variety of reasons, the average underrepresented minority student tends to have lower GPA and LSAT scores -- the myopic academic credentials that U.S. News “counts” -- than his or her White, nonminority counterpart. So, it is easy to see how schools that trade student diversity for higher numbers tend to move up in the U.S. News ranks. By contrast, schools that refuse to sacrifice diversity pay a big U.S. News price for pursuing what most educators agree is best for all our students. U.S. News actually rewards less diverse schools for admitting less diverse classes, and altogether ignores the clear learning advantages at the more diverse schools.

It is no secret that law schools have gone as far as admitting much smaller and significantly more homogenous first-year classes, and then letting many more students in through the 2L transfer “back door” (where U.S. News’s methodology does not look), thereby hiding the true credentials of their students from the magazine and artificially inflating their U.S. News ranksU.S. News does nothing to stop schools from engaging in this obvious manipulation. ...

Since U.S. News goes so far as to provide diversity data separately from the main rankings, why does it not reward schools that are more diverse than others by incorporating a diversity score in the rankings themselves? Mr. Morse insists that doing so would be difficult. ...

The sad truth is that the U.S. News law school rankings have hurt, and not helped, American law students, the legal profession and, thus, society as a whole. The U.S. News rankings have resulted in the denial of a quality legal education to minority law school applicants with great promise and drive but modest, rankings-unfriendly credentials. It has kept deserving students with great potential in the legal profession outside the doors of quality law schools and the profession itself by encouraging restrictive admissions policies geared more towards gaming the rankings than doing what is right societally, and what is best pedagogically. ...

Prospective law students should keep these criticisms in mind as they review the new U.S. News rankings. Applicants are right to choose among their law school options with great care and a skeptical eye. But they also should be wary of the U.S. News law school rankings themselves, which are so flawed and misleading that they may very likely do these students -- like so many students before them --- a whole lot more harm than good.

(Hat Tip: Verna Williams.)

Law School Rankings, Legal Education | Permalink


The meaning of the word "Diversity" in higher ed speak is affirmative action for racial/ethnic groups defined as "underrepresented", nothing more & nothing less.

Posted by: fred tampico | Apr 5, 2014 10:36:03 AM

I have said this before, and I will say it again. Why is race (or sexual orientation or any other characteristic) the only relevant diversity in an academic environment? Isn't it the content of one's character (i.e. brain) that is relevant? Most of the minority students in my class offered nothing but the same liberal viewpoints as their white peers in classroom discussions. As someone who went to law school in his 30s after working and who possesses a libertarian viewpoint, I contributed significantly more diversity to the classroom discussions and academic environment than any of my "minority" peers, yet to the PC crowd I was simply another white male.

This whole diversity racket is nothing but a farce.

Posted by: Todd | Apr 5, 2014 9:05:33 AM

This is another one of those criticisms that dislikes US News not because if isn't accurate, but precisely because it is. Essentially it is a demand to substitute political for performance criteria--something like saying that the Soviet Union should have ranked ahead of the United States because, although poorer, the Russians were closer to socialism. The day that US News accepts this kind of logic will be the day people stop caring about it.

Posted by: michael livingston | Apr 5, 2014 2:31:49 AM

Dear Professor Varona,
Would Asian Americans count in your definition of minorities or would it somehow exclude them because including them would make your case weaker, perhaps much weaker. And speaking of diversity, would it be OK if law schools admitted students who held the view that marriage should be defined as an union between a man and a woman or would you only want to admit students who are in favor of gay "marriage"? Unfortunately, people of your ilk argue for diversity of race and ethnicity (though almost everyone excludes Asian-Americans for reasons best left unsaid) and not for diversity which counts, viz. diversity of thought and opinions.

Posted by: sbagchi | Apr 4, 2014 11:41:20 AM