Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Rock of sages

Beacon Rock, WashingtonHaving declared in this forum my unmitigated embrace of meritocracy, of valuing performance over pedigree in every instance, I know there is no turning back. Meritocracy unmodified may be the most unforgivable of ideologies in a profession beholden to a view of "academic quality" derived more from privilege and prestige than from perspiration and performance.

I do aspire to intellectual magnanimity. Those who find greater value in the traditional indicia of pedigree are hereby invited to tell me why and/or tell me off. For my part, I offer my own tentative list of core principles for evaluating academic talent, whether on an individual or an institutional basis:
  • Pedigree never matters. Performance always does.

  • In gauging performance, you can measure anything you want except other professors' opinions. In other words . . . .

  • No academic ratings system is valid if it depends in whole or in part on a subjective survey of academic reputation.
Stripped of all surplusage, this "rock of sages" explains why I am highly skeptical of this prominent survey of academic quality among law schools and, for that matter, of this much ballyhooed alternative. As much as Brian Leiter's Law School Rankings have sharpened the legal academy's assessment of itself, no true advance will occur until law professors shed reputation as an explicit component of academic quality.


Blogger Luis Villa said...

Readers interested in this post and the general issue of meritocracy and expertise might take a look at what I just posted over at First Movers about the replacement of institutional credentialism by statistical likelihood.

9/19/2006 7:39 AM  
Blogger la Rana said...

While I agree with your sentiment (Oddly, I just posted something similar), I feel compelled to take issue with your (in my opinion) misuse of 'meritocracy.'

Michael Young coined meritocracy in nearly the opposite sense in which you, and most people, use it.

We measure meritocracy through the use of discreet metrics. Yet who is more likely to achieve high scores in those metrics? The wealthy have SAT coaches. The educated know what to do. The powerful simply walk through the door.

I am not suggesting you are entirely wrong, just that you might take pause next you use 'meritocracy.'

9/19/2006 1:06 PM  

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